Saturday, 29 March 2008

Friday, 28th March 2008


Vietnam and India on Friday tightened limits on rice exports, joining Egypt and Cambodia in trying to conserve scarce supplies for domestic consumption at the risk of triggering further increases in global rice prices, which have roughly doubled since the start of this year.Soaring prices for rice, a staple for nearly half the world's population, are already causing hardship across the developing world, particularly for urban workers. Together with rising prices for other foods, from wheat and soybeans to pork and cooking oil, higher rice prices are also contributing to inflation in many developing countries.Rice-importing countries have become increasingly desperate, with fast-food restaurants in the Philippines even cutting rice portions in half.Ben Savage, a rice broker at Jackson Son & Co. in London, said that even before the latest restrictions by Vietnam and India, international rice trading had practically stopped as exporters had become reluctant to sell as they waited to see how high prices would go. "The market has pretty much ground to a halt for the past few weeks," he said.

The World Trade Organization will rule against the European Union next week in a 12-year-old dispute with the United States and Canada over beef treated with hormones, according to a summary of the ruling obtained Friday by The Associated Press.The ruling will permit the United States and Canada to maintain sanctions worth tens of millions of dollars a year on European products like Roquefort cheese, truffles and Dijon mustard.The EU says beef treated with certain hormones poses a risk to human health. But Canada and the United States have persuaded the WTO that there is no solid scientific evidence to support a ban.In 1999, the trade group authorized Washington and Ottawa to impose $125 million worth of duties a year on European goods - sanctions which remain in force. Brussels brought the case back to the WTO in February 2005 after Washington and Ottawa refused to review their sanctions in light of new EU directives upholding the bans.The WTO's latest panel decision will be made public Monday, but was released confidentially to the parties in December. EU trade officials in Brussels declined to discuss the ruling before its publication. U.S. officials in Geneva and Washington also declined to comment.
The ruling will uphold that the EU failed to properly assess risks before banning certain hormones in beef imports, according to the summary obtained by The AP.In response to previous WTO rulings, the EU passed legislation to permanently ban the use of the hormone oestradiol-17b in meat products, based on independent research, and to provisionally ban five other growth-promoting hormones, including testosterone, progesterone and zeranol. The new rule took effect in October 2004.The panel will rule that EU assessments on oestradiol-17b fail to show a direct link between a risk of cancer and consumption of hormone-treated beef. It also says the five provisional bans are illegal because the EU failed to prove its case.The WTO panel said the United States and Canada should have initiated new compliance proceedings to maintain the sanctions, but ruled that the EU's continued noncompliance overruled procedural concerns.

In Baghdad, there was an exchange of fire between American aircraft and Mahdi army fighters in the Sadr City neighborhood, the capital's largest Shiite militia stronghold. The Iraqi police said an American helicopter opened fire early Friday in Sadr City, killing five people.

The Marine Corps has dropped charges and given full immunity to a serviceman who was accused of involuntary manslaughter in a squad's killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005.
The case against Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum, 26, was dismissed Friday as jury selection was about to begin for his court-martial.

The government has been seeking Tatum's testimony against the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, in the largest prosecution of U.S. troops in the Iraq war. However, the case has shrunk over time, including the removal of all murder charges.
Prosecutors say Wuterich directed the assault immediately after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and wounded two others in a convoy. Wuterich and another Marine shot five men nearby before the squad leader ordered his men to clear homes with grenades and gunfire, killing unarmed civilians.

Tatum was relieved by the news and considered it an affirmation of his contention that he and his squadmates responded to a perceived threat as they had been trained to do, Zimmerman said.
"It has been a very happy morning," he said.
Tatum was the third enlisted Marine to have all charges dismissed.
Four enlisted Marines were initially charged with murder, and four officers were charged with failing to investigate the deaths. Over time the case has shrunk, including removal of all murder charges. Only two officers remain charged.

Amid a bloody surge in suicide bombings, officials in Islamabad are also talking about trying to negotiate a deal with local Taliban militants. They don't seem to have a clear plan yet, but it is hard to see how they would be more successful than Musharraf. His deal with tribal leaders in the Afghan border region failed spectacularly as troops retreated to barracks and extremists moved east toward Pakistan's more populated areas. Things also got much worse in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida has advocated attacks on Germany in the hope of forcing it to reconsider its involvement in Afghanistan, a senior German security official said Friday.
Joerg Ziercke, president of the Federal Criminal Agency, noted that the nation's Federal Criminal Police Office has pointed to recent video messages from al-Qaida leaders as evidence that Germany, and Europe in general, are increasingly in the sights of Islamic terrorists.
"Based on our information at this point, we have to assume that the leadership of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups advocates attacks in Germany," the agency said in a statement summarizing current crime issues.
"The goal is to force Germany to change its policy toward Afghanistan," Ziercke told reporters. He said his agency has no concrete evidence of any planned attacks, but "we do not expect an easing of the situation at the moment."
About 3,000 German troops are serving in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan as part of international efforts there.


Naeem Akhtar has an improbable role in the Indian government's drive to revitalize Kashmir after 18 years of militant violence. His task: rebrand this heavily militarized Himalayan region as a global golfing destination.



Jewry in New York City climaxed a day of protest against anit-Semitic activity in Germany with a mass-meeting in Madidon Square Garden last night [Mar. 27] attended by 22.000 persons , while 38,000 thousand swarmed round the building to hear the voices of speakers brought to them through amplifiers. The meeting followed a day of fasting and prayer, with similar protests being staged in 300 other cities. [Former Governor Alfred E. Smith] likend the present Nazis to the Ku Klux Klan and urged tht the best procedure was "to drag the enitre affair into the open sunlight."


Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the National Council of Moroccans in the Netherlands, said the community had taken a deliberate decision to lower tension. "Any excited reaction which caused events on the street or within the Muslim population would have been seen as justification for prejudices about Muslims," Rabbae said. "He would have said: 'You see, this is what I said, Muslims are intolerant' ".
There was strong condemnation outside the Netherlands. Iran called the film heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic and appealed to European governments to block further distribution. The Pakistani Foreign Office summoned the Dutch ambassador to lodge a protest and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a former Dutch colony, condemned the film.
The Slovenian presidency of the European Union said that acts such as the release of the film "serve no other purpose than inflaming hatred."
Freedom of speech "should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions," it said.



A court rejected on Friday a defamation lawsuit against Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, agreeing with his assertion that the Japanese military was deeply involved in the mass suicides of civilians in Okinawa at the end of World War II.

In a closely watched ruling, the Osaka District Court rejected a $200,000 damage suit filed by a 91-year-old war veteran and another veteran's surviving relatives who said there was no evidence of the military's involvement. The plaintiffs had also sought to block further printing of Oe's 1970 book of essays, "Okinawa Notes," in which he wrote of how Japanese soldiers forced Okinawans to kill themselves instead of surrendering to advancing American troops.
"The military was deeply involved in the mass suicides," Judge Toshimasa Fukami said in his ruling. Fukami cited testimonies of survivors that soldiers handed out grenades to civilians to commit suicide and the fact that mass suicides occurred only in villages where troops were stationed.


Police are searching a lake and its surroundings for a Russian artist who disappeared from her Berlin home a week ago.
Spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski said five divers were combing a lake near Anna Mikhalchuk's home and more than 80 officers with sniffing dogs were searching Friday for her in gardens and along train tracks.
Mikhalchuk, 52, also known in Russia under the name of Anna Alchuk, left her apartment on March 21 and has not been seen since. She moved to Berlin with her husband Michail Ryklin in November 2007.
In 2005, she was acquitted by a Moscow court on charges of inciting religious hatred for her works in a controversial art exhibit condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church.


Sponsors of Olympic torch caught in Tibet protests

From the beginning, sponsors and planners of the Beijing Olympics have devised their marketing campaigns with care, many emphasizing social causes.
Coca-Cola's torch campaign, for example, is focused on environmental champions. General Electric ads promote clean-water technologies and solar power. Analysts say the focus on social responsibility is aimed at deflecting criticism that could come from being associated with some of China's more controversial environmental and human rights policies.
American public relations firms also have an active role in the Olympics — for example, Hill & Knowlton, part of the WPP Group, is representing the Beijing Olympics organizing committee.


Even if, like me, you're not normally given to thinking about manhole covers, you still may be asking why a 33-year-old woman would be driving around a Chicago suburb with 11 of them in her car. What motives did she, and all the other manhole-cover thieves around the world, have for making off with cast-iron discs weighing in excess of 50 pounds?
This: In 2001, scrap metal sold for $77 a ton; at the end of 2004, it was $300 per ton, and today it's approaching $480. Behind the rise, say the analysts, is China's voracious demand for steel.


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All in all, the candidates' positions on the mortgage crisis tell the same tale as their positions on health care: a tale that is seriously at odds with the way they're often portrayed.
McCain, we're told, is a straight-talking maverick. But on domestic policy, he offers neither straight talk nor originality; instead, he panders shamelessly to right-wing ideologues.
Clinton, we're assured by sources right and left, tortures puppies and eats babies. But her policy proposals continue to be surprisingly bold and progressive.
Finally, Obama is widely portrayed, not least by himself, as a transformational figure who will usher in a new era. But his actual policy proposals, though liberal, tend to be cautious and relatively orthodox.
Do these policy comparisons really tell us what each candidate would be like as president? Not necessarily - but they're the best guide we have.

Pet hotel near Tokyo's airport spoils travelers' animals

The Pet Inn Royal at Narita airport near Tokyo is exactly what its name implies: a place of overnight lodging where your four-footed friend is king. For some pet owners, that can be a little disconcerting.
"I was actually surprised they knew when our pets went to the toilet and how much food they ate," said Lisbeth Petersen, a native of Denmark who left her cats, Pooh and Cookie, at the hotel during a recent trip to Singapore.

It's doubtful, though, that even the most devoted neighbors would rise to the level of care at the Pet Inn Royal. The hotel will unpack and microwave every packet of food that the master has carefully prepared - a common practice in Japan, where it is considered déclassé to serve pet food to a pet.
"Customers may ask, for example, to sprinkle cheese on top of the cooked rice meal, prepare milk at certain temperatures or give dessert," said Chiyo Sakurai, general manager of the hotel.
The staff will take pets out for a walk several times a day and give them exercise at a specially designed gymnasium. Health care and beauty concerns are addressed by full-time veterinarians and pet groomers on site.
Careful records of the pet's behavior and conditions of life are kept - how many grams of food consumed, how many walks and how productive - and compared with details obtained in advance from the owners.
Not all owner requests are granted. "We can go only so far," Sakurai said. "Some customers want us to take their pets out for a walk 10 times a day, for example. That, we could not do."

Kibaki cannot part with that because "the president sets the national agenda and finance is part of the national agenda," said Alfred Mutua, the president's spokesman. The president, as commander in chief, is also refusing to give up internal security, defense and foreign affairs.
"We were naive to think that after the coalition agreement we would sit down as partners," Mutua said. "They came sitting down as adversaries."
The opposition says it is not about partners or adversaries. It is about fairness. "It can't be that one side gets the 10 most important ministries and the other side gets the balance," said Salim Lone, Odinga's spokesman. "We're being extremely reasonable. We're just saying stick to the spirit of the agreement."



Thousands of Kenyans lined up to buy shares in the mobile phone company Safaricom on Friday, shrugging off calls to delay the biggest initial public offering in east Africa until questions were resolved over the company's ownership.
In a sign of returning stability in Kenya after a bloody post-election crisis, the government is selling a 25 percent stake in Safaricom worth at least 50 billion shillings, or $779.4 million. It holds 60 percent of the company.
Despite calls for a delay by the prime minister designate, Raila Odinga, the offer opened as planned and was scheduled to run until April 23 in an important test of investor confidence in the country.
Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement have raised questions about a Guernsey-registered entity called Mobitelea, which was investigated last year by a parliamentary regulator over reports it owned part of Safaricom alongside the Kenyan unit of the British company Vodafone.
The government and Safaricom had denied the existence of any secret third shareholder and the issue helped slow Kenya's progress in forming a power-sharing government. The Safaricom prospectus issued Friday showed that Mobitelea had a 12.5 percent stake in Vodafone Kenya, but did not indicate who owned Mobitelea.


Sitting in his office here, just across from the Moscow International Performance Arts Center, which he designed, the architect Sergei Gnedovsky reflected on his newest building, the 600 million ruble (about $25.2 million) marble-and-glass P. Fomenko Theater. Its resident company, the Pyotr Fomenko Workshop Theater, is well known for psychologically complex productions of classic texts, and it thrived in its former location: a cramped, repurposed Soviet cinema with two small performance halls and awkward features like large load-bearing columns, often part of the scenery.
"It's a principle of art," Gnedovsky said. "The worse the conditions, the better the art." He sighed. "Artists should be hungry."
What then to make of Gnedovsky's design for the company's new seven-story theater, open since January on the banks of the Moscow River? Do its marble lobby, spectacular views and large hall that seats 450 pose an artistic hazard for the scrappy company?
Not to worry, Gnedovsky said. Before he drew up the plans, he studied everything that was wrong with the old theater. Then he reproduced it in the new one.

An American teenager is part wunderkind and part invalid, able to excel in obscure sports but needing his mother to rush the field with a jacket and Thermos of broth when he's finished. They have been hobbled by our endless meddling; they lack resourcefulness and resilience. Have you seen the fits these kids pitch if they find out they got shafted at Dartmouth and have to go to Tufts instead? It's like "King Lear." And why shouldn't it be - nothing's ever happened to them. They're like little children, soft and easily wounded.


Sotheby's star lot, which was also the most problematic because of its ambitious estimate ($1.5 million to $2.5 million plus the sale charge) sold against the reserve for $1,385,000, still a large price for this 15th-century gilt copper figure of the seated Buddha. The head and neck were repeatedly painted until recent times, in keeping with Buddhist ritual tradition. Hence a sweet, mealy-mouthed expression, not exactly popular with most collectors.
The catalogue, however, pointed out "the pristine condition of the statue, with its gilding almost entirely intact" and assured that this "clearly indicates its highly regarded Tibetan status, where [sic] it is likely to have been placed in an exalted temple location out of danger of accidental damage or handling by devotees." Sadly, it was not out of danger of incidental removal. Were bidders encouraged by its provenance, the Berti Aschmann Collection which it had entered, the catalogue said, in 1961? Possibly. The fear of looting committed a long time ago is somehow not as nagging as that of more recent pilfering.

Another Avalokiteshvara, cast in the 9th century, did not have that luck. Despite the proportions reminiscent of the Srivijaya culture in Sri Lanka, the facial features point to a Cham origin. The mysterious Cham people who survive in communities scattered across Vietnam and Cambodia adhered to Hinduism and Buddhism in circumstances that elude us and later turned to Islam, when it reached the Vietnamese coast via the maritime route around the 11-12th century. Their distinctive art points to a strong collective personality. More might be learned about them if excavations were conducted. That is not going to happen. Few are concerned about the vanished culture of a minority on its way out.
With every major work projected onto the market by commercial digging, a portion of its past history is lost forever. The rare Cham bronze which, Christie's assured, came from a "Private English Collection [in the] 1990s" actually failed to sell as the hammer came down at $95,000. Thus was historical waste accompanied by commercial failure. From Tibet to Cambodia, the common treasure of mankind is squandered at a rate that matches that of melting Antarctica. And business goes on.



Nur Hassan Hussein, the prime minister, did not deny that government troops were robbing civilians. "This is the biggest problem we have," he said.
But, he said, he does not have the money to pay them. Each month, more than half of government's revenue, mostly from port taxes, disappears - stolen by "our people," the prime minister said.
That leaves Nur with about $18 million a year in government money to run a failed state of nine million of some of the world's neediest, most collectively traumatized people.
And "failed state" may be a generous term. In many ways, Somalia is not a state at all, but an ungoverned space between its neighbors and the sea. Sometimes it seems that if anything binds this country together, it is scar tissue.
Take Hassan Ali Elmi, who was blinded by a bullet in 1992 and has been living ever since in a cell-like room in the gutted former ministry of public works. His son tugs him into town to beg for the equivalent of a few pennies a day, which buy less and less. At night, he lies on a thin foam mattress and waits for the shooting to stop. It doesn't.

"All Somalia, all gun," he says.
His neighbors are recently displaced people living in cardboard huts that crumble in the rain. Aid groups say that more than half of Mogadishu's estimated one million people is on the run.


Microsoft's attempted hostile takeover of Yahoo may encounter an unexpected hurdle in August when a new anti-monopoly law takes effect in China, extending its economic influence far beyond its borders.
The law is intended to strengthen an existing set of antitrust regulations the Chinese established in 1993. It would make China a third sphere of regulatory influence, matching the power of the European Union and the United States, according to legal specialists in the United States and in China who have studied it.
Formally enacted by the National People's Congress last year to take effect Aug. 1, the measure gives Chinese regulators authority to examine foreign mergers when they involve acquisitions of Chinese companies or foreign companies investing in Chinese companies' operations. Beijing could also consider national security issues, according to a report by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.
The law could give China influence in Microsoft's efforts to buy Yahoo because in August 2005, Yahoo, a premier search portal, invested $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in, the largest e-commerce company in China. Alibaba officials have said that they believe that a Microsoft takeover of Yahoo would set in motion a buyback provision, making it possible for them to gain independence from Microsoft.
Nathan Bush, an antitrust law specialist in Beijing with the U.S. law firm O'Melveny & Myers, said this represented the ascendance of China "as another regulatory capital contending for influence with Brussels and Washington."

"Multinational corporations will need to develop strategies for all the markets they operate in," he added, "and China is a big market."



Home A Memoir of My Early Years By Julie Andrews. 339 pages. $26.95, Hyperion; ; £18.99 Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Julie Andrews's memoir is full of crisp locutions like "poor unfortunate" and "banished to the scullery" and "trivet," a characteristically precise term that the dictionary defines as "an iron tripod placed over a fire for a cooking pot or kettle to stand on." It opens with a soppy poem she wrote about England, but what follows is a decisively unsoppy account of a typically dismal English childhood, complete with cramped lodgings and brutish relatives, which Andrews tells briskly and without self-pity.

Travelers arriving early Friday confronted what one traveler, Tony Pascoe, 35, called chaos as they stood in line for several hours only to be told their flight had been canceled.
"It was chaotic," he told Britain's Press Association, "Everyone who had been queuing were annoyed and a lot of jostling and arguing started. Then the desk just crashed so everyone stood there.
"It is diabolical. I am a frequent traveler and this is the worst experience ever - it is absolutely shocking."
"This is a public relations disaster at a time when London and the U.K. are positioning themselves as global players," said David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. "We can only hope that this will provide a wake-up call as we gear ourselves up to host the Olympics in 2012."


Nearly four years after its distinctive latticed roof caved in, killing four in a shower of concrete and glass, the boarding area of Terminal 2E at Charles de Gaulle Airport was due to reopen to the public Sunday, following a painstaking reconstruction.

The rebuilding of the terminal has moved much faster than the inquiry into who was at fault. The investigating judge in the case, Olivier Christen, has ordered two separate reports, the first of which is expected to be completed by September.


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