Protests turn violent as South Korea beef crisis mounts
SEOUL: South Korean protesters fought with the police, tried to overturn riot-control buses and smashed their windows Sunday amid a deepening political crisis over U.S. beef imports, hours after their president appealed to Washington for help in easing growing public anger.
The violence occurred early Sunday after a crowd estimated by the police at about 40,000 rallied Saturday night in central Seoul against an April agreement that they say fails to protect against beef potentially tainted with mad cow disease.
The demonstrators attacked police riot buses lined up to barricade streets on a key central artery, throwing objects, using ladders to smash windows and trying to overturn the vehicles. Clashes ensued, with protesters hitting the police with sticks and officers striking back with riot shields. Some demonstrators were injured and taken away in ambulances. Officers also suffered injuries, and 11 protesters were detained for questioning.
The protests followed a familiar pattern - a largely peaceful main rally that turned violent as crowds thinned and the remaining protesters confronted the police.
Lee's fledgling government has been battered by daily protests over the April 18 agreement to resume U.S. beef imports - banned for most of the past four and a half years over fears of mad cow disease.
The largest crowd yet - which the police estimated at 65,000 - rallied Friday night.
Late Saturday, Lee's office said that Bush had pledged to come up with measures to ensure that beef from older cattle - considered at greater risk of mad cow disease - is not exported to South Korea. Bush made the remark during a phone call with Lee, the government said.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on South Korea's statement.
In Washington earlier, a White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said Bush had assured Lee that the U.S. government "is cooperating closely with the South Korean government and ready to support American cattle exporters as they reach a mutually acceptable solution with Korean importers on the beef trade."
Lee remains caught between a pledge to his country's most important ally and South Koreans' anger over the agreement. Protesters claim that Lee ignored their concerns about food safety and gave in to U.S. demands to help ensure passage in Congress of a bilateral free trade deal struck last year.
Both the South Korean and U.S. governments have repeatedly said that American beef is safe to eat. Protesters demand that the agreement be scrapped or renegotiated to prohibit imports of beef from cattle 30 months of age or older.
Lee said Friday that demanding a renegotiation would trigger a trade dispute with Washington that could affect South Korea's export-driven economy.
U.S. beef has been largely banned from South Korea since the first case of mad cow disease in the United States was discovered in late 2003. Two subsequent cases were found.
Rice scientist sees technology as a savior
LOS BAÑOS, Philippines: Robert Zeigler has not had much time for scuba diving this year, but he is not complaining.
Journalists from around the world have converged on Zeigler's office in Los Baños, a lush university town south of Manila, looking for explanations and solutions to a sharp increase in rice prices that many fear will tip millions back into poverty.
As director general of the International Rice Research Institute, Zeigler, an American-born scientist, is in a unique position to provide some answers.
The grain that feeds half the world's population has dominated Zeigler's career, on and off, for more than 20 years.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Congo in the early 1970s, Zeigler witnessed firsthand how the failure of a crucial crop, cassava, could cause starvation.
With that as his background, Zeigler has been trying for years to highlight the risk of hunger from flattening rice yields and ever-increasing demand.
His passion about the subject, and his willingness to be blunt to get his point across, is apparent to everyone who meets him.
"How can I be polite about this?" Zeigler, who describes himself as a hopeless optimist, wondered aloud in a recent interview when asked what he thought of the arguments against genetically modified food crops.
"Oh, why start now," he said before offering a typically forthright response.
Zeigler said his experience in the former Zaire convinced him that science was an important part of the answer to global food shortages.
Zeigler, 57, studied plant pathology at Cornell University and worked with Peter Jennings, a founding father of the so-called green revolution in rice.
The green revolution, pushed ahead at the rice research institute in the 1960s, resulted in the development of high-yielding rice varieties that are estimated to have saved millions of Asians from famine and allowed the region to industrialize.
Zeigler, who first joined the institute in 1992, contends that a sequel is now urgently needed and is convinced it is possible through research, technology and effective communication with farmers.
Since becoming the institute's head in 2005, Zeigler has emphasized agricultural technology, including genetically modified seeds, as a means of combating plateauing yields, drought, scarcity of water and malnourishment.
The use of transgenic technology in food crops is controversial, and the International Rice Research Institute's technology-heavy focus has been criticized by environmental groups.
Zeigler passionately defends the institute's research into genetically modified organisms, dismissing as unscientific arguments that the technology is harmful and arguing that to ignore its possible contribution is irresponsible and possibly amoral in a world still plagued by starvation.
Nude cyclists ride through Spanish cities in environmental protest
MADRID, Spain: Hundreds of cyclists rode nude through Spain's main cities to promote environmentally friendly transport and to call for cycle lanes to be put in place.
Organizers say streets "have been hijacked by private cars," making them "hostile, dangerous places."
Cyclists took to the streets in cities including Madrid, Barcelona and Zaragoza during Saturday's protest.
One protester, Ignacio Fernandez, had "No Oil" written on his back and said "Spanish cities have few lanes dedicated to cyclists, and it's time that changed."
G8 energy ministers look inward on oil and spare OPEC
In a group ranging from top oil consumer the United States to No. 2 exporter Russia, few had expected the meeting to result in measures that could stem oil's six-year rally, which has gathered pace this year as investors fear the world will struggle to produce enough crude to meet demand in the decades ahead.
However, their message appeared to reflect a growing acceptance that consumer nations must find ways to temper their own demand by focusing on technology, conservation and diversification rather than hounding OPEC to pump ever more oil, as Australia's prime minister urged earlier in the day.
The group of G8 ministers plus non-G8 guests China, India and South Korea, which together consume two-thirds of the world's energy, said they shared "serious concerns" over the cost of oil.
Analysts said they were on the right track.
"This is the right development and this will...improve the supply and demand balance in the medium- and long-term, but it won't have an immediate impact on prices," said Toshinori Ito, senior analyst at UBS Securities Japan.
"Oil prices are surging not because of a supply shortage, but because of massive liquidity," Ito said, referring to the influx of financial funds into markets, helped by low interest rates.
Oil has doubled in a year and risen 44 percent since January, forcing developing countries such as Indonesia and India into unpopular fuel prices rises while richer nations ponder how to soften the blow of soaring energy costs for the vulnerable.
South Korea on Sunday became one of the first countries to cave in to public pressure, announcing a $10 billion one-year handout to help 14 million low-income earners.
The issue is certain to hang over G8 leaders when they meet in Japan early next month, a summit where host Japan hopes to win backing for a target to halve carbon emissions by 2050.
The energy ministers agreed on the need for more large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects that bury emissions from power plants, a cornerstone of the International Energy Agency's call for a $45 trillion ( 73.7 trillion pound) energy "revolution".
"The time for talking is over. We have to implement this," British Business Minister John Hutton told Reuters in an interview, referring to the IEA goals.
Carbon-capturing technology is stalled by a Catch-22
WASHINGTON: Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is a fine idea, and a lot of companies would be proud to do it. But they would prefer to be second, if not third or fourth.
This is not a good way to get started in fighting global warming.
As efforts to pass a bill on global warming collapsed in the U.S. Senate last week, companies that burn coal to make electricity were looking for a way to build a plant that would capture its emissions. There is a will and a way - several ways, in fact - to do just that.
Capturing carbon from these plants may become a lot more important soon. Emissions from coal-fired power plants already account for about 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions, but as prices for other fuels rise, along with power demand, utilities will burn more coal.
And if cars someday run on batteries, a trend that $4-a-gallon, or about $1 a liter, gasoline will accelerate, then the utilities will burn even more fuel to generate the electricity to recharge those batteries.
This could be good news, because controlling emissions from a few hundred power plants is easier than controlling them from tens of millions of house chimneys or tailpipes. And in the laboratory, at least, there are several very promising systems for capturing carbon dioxide before pumping it underground.
But supplying electricity is not like most other businesses. Unlike the companies that make microchips, clothing for teenagers or snack foods, the companies that make electricity can see no advantage in going first. This is true for the traditionally regulated utilities that can charge everything to a captive class of customers (if regulators approve), and it is also true for the "merchant generators," who build power plants and sell their output on the open market.
"No one wants to go into the new world," said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit group that favors stringent controls on power plant emissions. "We have very few takers because of the price premium."
By price premium, Cohen meant not only the costs of going first, with the high probability of mistakes that others can learn from, but also the costs of the new technology itself. The problem is, the premium is of unknown size, which makes everyone in the industry especially wary.
Battery supplier declares itself ready for GM electric car
DETROIT: A unit of the South Korean company LG Chem is ready to supply next-generation batteries to the Chevy Volt, a senior executive has said, confounding skeptics who said General Motors would not have the all-electric car ready by late 2010.
The LG Chem unit, Compact Power, which is based in Troy, Michigan, is one of two groups racing for the contract to build batteries for the Volt, a plug-in hybrid that GM's board approved last week for production in November 2010.
In a market reeling from high fuel prices, GM has a lot riding on the Volt, which it has pushed to bring to market before any major rivals have an electric equivalent. But skeptics, including Toyota Motor, have questioned whether the crucial battery for the Volt could be made road ready by a deadline that even GM has conceded would be a stretch.
Prabhakar Patil, chief executive of Compact Power, said last week that it had made a third-generation Volt battery prototype and demonstrated that key elements of the 400-pound, or 180-kilogram, power supply - including a liquid cooling system - work as planned.
He said LG Chem had a South Korean cell factory ready and would quickly move to build one near Detroit to make Volt batteries if it wins the contract, the first in a market expected to be worth tens of billions of dollars in the next decade. "Nobody knew whether this could be done," Patil said. "But the process is really paying off."
If chosen, Patil said, Compact Power plans to make Volt batteries at a factory on Seoul's outskirts that will make paperback-sized cells for a coming Hyundai hybrid.
Those battery cells would be shipped to a new facility near the factory in Hamtramck, Michigan, where GM plans to build the Volt and use large T-shaped battery packs.
Compact Power plans to double its staffing from about 60 now if key contracts pan out. It also expects to ramp up to $1 billion in sales to the electric-car market faster than the decade-long forecast it had offered last year, he said.
GM, which is showing the production-ready Volt design to focus groups, has said it will unveil the final version of the car soon. Patil said he expected an announcement on the closely watched battery contract to come "fairly soon."
"For sure, it will be before the end of the year, but I think it's probably sooner," Patil said.
GM is designing the Volt to run for 40 miles, or 64 kilometers, on a lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged at a standard electric outlet. The car will also capture energy from braking like a traditional hybrid and feature an on-board engine that will be used to send power to the battery on longer trips.
The Volt marks one of the first attempts to adapt lithium-ion batteries, widely used in consumer electronics, for a car, though Toyota and others are pressing ahead with their own work on the same technology.
Thai Airways to end direct flights to New York because of high fuel prices
BANGKOK, Thailand: Thai Airways International will halt its direct flights between Bangkok and New York starting next month because of rising fuel prices, the company said Saturday.
Thailand's national carrier said its board agreed Friday to end the direct flights July 1 and to reduce flights to Los Angeles from seven to five a week as part of an energy saving plan. It also plans to end direct flights to Los Angeles later this year, the company said.
"The change of the flight plan is to lessen the impact of the rising energy price which has affected the entire industry," the company said in a statement. "If the fuel prices goes down, we will consider resuming the direct flights."
Gypsies in Italy protest prejudice
Violent episodes against the Roma in Italy have increased in the past year. The worst violence took place in Naples nearly a month ago, when Roma encampments were set on fire. Last week, protesters from the rightist Northern League party managed to halt work on the construction of a new housing project in Venice, and a Roma camp in central Rome was evacuated.
Silvio Berlusconi's center-right government has promised tough legislation that would allow the police to shut down unauthorized Roma camps. The government also wants to carry out a census of people living in the camps. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said last week that the issue of the Roma camps would be resolved by the end of the year.
Many of the demonstrators on Sunday wore black triangles, like those that the Nazis forced the Roma to wear in concentration camps.
"Today is a great day for the Rom," said Gina, a Roma from Romania who did not want to give her last name. "Remember that if you forget history, it can repeat itself."
Red light districts? Berlusconi's government is divided on prostitution
ROME: Red light districts? Life in prison for pimps?
Italy's conservative government is debating what to do about prostitution as it cracks down on crime.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini jumped into the debate in a newspaper interview published Sunday. La Stampa quoted him as saying pimps practice slavery and deserve life imprisonment.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has suggested starting red light districts.
Prostitution is legal in Italy, but exploitation of prostitution is a crime. Many of the skimpily clad prostitutes on Italian sidewalks are minors, and many are foreign victims of human trafficking.
Italy outlawed brothels 50 years ago.
Bahrain's king appoints Jewish woman as ambassador to Washington
MANAMA, Bahrain: Bahrain's king has appointed a woman believed to be the Arab world's first Jewish ambassador as the country's envoy to Washington.
Lawmaker Houda Nonoo said she was proud to serve her country "first of all as a Bahraini," adding she was not chosen for the post because of her religion.
"It is a great honor to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge," Nonoo told The Associated Press by telephone.
The Wednesday decree issued by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and reported by the official Bahrain News Agency had not specified where Nonoo, a 43-year-old mother of two boys, would be posted.
Bahrain — a pro-Western island nation with Sunni rulers and a Shiite majority — is a close U.S. ally and hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. It has about 50 Jewish citizens among a population of roughly a half-million people.
Nonoo has served as legislator in Bahrain's all-appointed 40-member Shura Council for three years.
Nonoo replaced her cousin Ibrahim Nonoo, who held the Shura Council seat for four years. A businesswoman who lives both in Bahrain and London, Nono also is the first Jewish woman to head a local rights organization, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch.
Jews migrated here in the 19th century, mostly from Iran and Iraq. Their numbers increased early in the 20th century but decreased after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when many left for Israel, the U.S. and Europe.
Today's Jews keep a low profile in Bahrain, working mostly in banks, commercial and trade companies and retail. They live in upscale parts of the country, being part of the wealthy business community.
There is also a synagogue and a private Jewish cemetery here. At the height of the Arab-Israeli war, the synagogue was attacked and torched by angry Muslims. The structure was later refurbished.
Bahrain has no diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1969, an official Israeli delegation visited Bahrain but protesters burned the Israeli flag in a large street demonstration at the time. In 2006, after Bahrain signed the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., Manama closed down a government office that endorsed a boycott of Israeli goods.
ETA rebels bomb Basque newspaper building
No one was hurt by the blast, at the back of El Correo's printing press building in the Basque town of Zamudio at about 3 a.m. (2 a.m. British time) on Sunday.
Fifty staff were in the building at the time, the newspaper said on its website (http://www.elcorreodigital.com/vizcaya/).
"The bomb at our plant in Zamudio will not stop us printing and will not silence our voice, which speaks for hundreds of thousands of Basques who want to see the end of ETA," El Correo said in an editorial.
7 die in Tokyo stabbing rampage
TOKYO: A 25-year-old man said to have been "tired" of life went on a killing rampage in a busy shopping area in central Tokyo on Sunday, plowing his truck into a crowd of pedestrians before stabbing passers-by with a survival knife. Seven people died and 11 others were injured in the attack.
The attack took place shortly after noon on a main thoroughfare that had been closed off to vehicles for the day in Akihabara, the main district for electronic goods in Tokyo and a magnet for fans of Japanese anime and manga comics. The location, as well as the number of fatalities, stunned a country that has long enjoyed low crime rates but has recently experienced random stabbings in less high-profile areas.
The police identified the attacker as Tomohiro Kato, who was living by himself in a small apartment in Shizuoka, a prefecture just west of Tokyo. According to the Japanese media, Kato told the police that he had grown "tired" of life, "hated the world" and had gone to Akihabara to kill people.
"Anyone was O.K.," he told the police, according to local media report.
Wal-Mart assumes a new role: Music hit maker
On Tuesday, Wal-Mart started selling on an exclusive basis a three-disc collection by the popular 1980s band Journey called "Revelation." And it is doing so without a middleman: The album was bought directly from the band without the help of a record label. Instead, Journey went right to Wal-Mart and kept most of the money a record company would normally take as profit for the group. Last year, Wal-Mart made a similar deal with the Eagles, who like Journey are represented by Front Line Management, the largest U.S. music management company.
The deals highlight the changing dynamics of the music industry as the once-powerful labels decline because of the migration to less-costly digital downloads. To fill the gap, musicians are trying to find ways to connect directly with fans and Wal-Mart is using these exclusive deals to assume a new role: hit maker.
The Eagles' double-disc "Long Road Out of Eden" sold 711,000 copies in its first week and three million since its release, according to Nielsen SoundScan, impressive numbers at a time when CD sales are declining. Journey sold 45,000 albums in "Revelation's" first three days on sale, and Irving Azoff, founder and chief executive of Front Line Management and a music industry veteran who ran MCA Records in the 1980s, predicted that it would sell more than 80,000 copies in its first week. That's probably enough to debut in the top five, and significantly more than the band's last album sold in total.
"With the downturn, the labels couldn't match the marketing commitments that Wal-Mart could make," Azoff said. "It was well in excess of anything a label could do."
Front Line took on some of the traditional work of a record label, producing a video and promoting songs to radio. But most of the marketing was done by Wal-Mart itself. The chain ran print, radio and television advertisements that promoted the exclusive availability of the Eagles album.
In some ways, the Eagles' and Journey's arrangements represent the mainstream equivalent of the path artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have taken by releasing albums on the Internet without a traditional label.
"It just goes to show you that fewer artists need to be associated with record companies," said Larry Mestel, chief executive of Primary Wave Music Publishing and a former executive of Virgin Records. "They don't need to give up a big chunk of money to the record companies when they're iconic. They can go direct to Wal-Mart and make four to five dollars per CD."
EuroNews sheds image to gain audience
PARIS: How do you brand an international news channel that lacks star anchors and practices an unconventional approach that top executives bluntly describe as postmodern, "just the facts" journalism?
In the case of EuroNews, which is making noises about challenging CNN, the answer was to undertake a makeover led by a pair of advertising executives whose philosophy is - well, they insist, they have no philosophy.
The network's new logo? It's a white circle.
"It was something that we could have never presented at the beginning of the process," said Fred Raillard, an enfant terrible of the French advertising industry who, with his creative partner, Farid Mokart, were asked to refashion the EuroNews image 18 months ago. "Imagine the agency comes back to you and says, 'All right, we got it! It's a white circle! Amazing.' We could have never sold that from scratch."
Under Raillard and Mokart, EuroNews has undergone a €5 million, or $7.9 million, psychic and physical transformation led by the quirky duo, whose start-up agency, FFL Paris, creates advertising for the perfume Diesel and the soft drink Orangina.