Dec 4, 2013
Dec 4, 2013
Dec 4, 2013
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China recorded an unexpected trade deficit of $22.98 billion in February, official figures showed Saturday, with authorities blaming the country’s holiday season for the weak performance. The figure compared with a surplus of $14.8 billion in the same month last year, and a median forecast of an $11.9 billion surplus in a poll of 13 economists by Dow Jones Newswires.
Exports fell 18.1% to $114.10 billion, while imports were up 10.1% to $137.08 billion during the month, which included most of the Lunar New Year holiday, the General Administration of Customs said.
“The Spring Festival factor caused sharp fluctuations in the monthly growth rate as well as the monthly deficit,” Customs said in a statement accompanying the data. Chinese traders followed their “business habit” of bringing forward exports ahead of the holiday, and focusing on imports immediately afterwards, it added.
Analysts played down the deficit − China’s first in 11 months − saying improving foreign demand bodes well for the country’s trade this year. “Generally we are rather optimistic about this year’s trade outlook,” Zhou Hao, a Shanghai-based economist with ANZ said.
The surprise deficit was probably a result of government efforts to curb speculative capital inflows aiming to profit from the appreciation of China’s yuan currency, he said.
Early last year unusual swings in trade figures were seen as driven by over-invoicing by exporters and importers in a bid to disguise capital flows, a practice the government is believed to have cracked down on later.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2015.
US job creation picked up pace in February after harsh weather depressed the numbers for two months, somewhat alleviating worries that economic growth had sputtered out during the winter.
The economy generated 175,000 jobs last month, better than most analysts had expected given the persistence of severe storms, the labour department said Friday.
The figure, which came after a series of poor indicators that had led economists to cut their forecasts, was still below the 200,000-plus level that would erase doubts about the economy’s strength.
Coupled with an upward revision to the December and January figures that added another 25,000 jobs to the picture, the February achievement allowed many to believe that the main problem has been the extraordinarily cold and icy storms that have pummeled the eastern half of the US for months.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2015.
The world was a little closer to knowing for sure who invented Bitcoin on Friday, despite Newsweek’s claim to have unmasked the enigmatic ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ behind the computer-coded currency.
The magazine relaunched its print version with an ostensibly huge scoop, identifying the 64-year-old Japanese-American engineer Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto as the creator.
But the mystery remained after the apparently retired model train enthusiast from suburban Los Angeles asked a reporter to buy him lunch and then denied he was the Nakamoto of legend.
“I’m not involved in Bitcoin,” he told the AP reporter.
Hours later, raising more doubts about the Newsweek report, a web forum where ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ used to share his ideas for the virtual currency and the computing structure behind it unexpectedly received a curt message on the same Nakamoto account.
“I am not Dorian Nakamoto,” the message on the P2P Foundation members discussion board said.
But neither denial quite settled the matter. There is still some mystery about Dorian S Nakamoto himself.
And Joseph Davies-Coates, who established the P2P discussion board, said that while the source of the second denial could easily be the original Satoshi Nakamoto, there was no way to prove that.
Critics bashed Newsweek for making a compelling but not definitive link between Bitcoin and Dorian Nakamoto, and still publishing his picture and one of his home, while writing that he is worth at least $400 million in unspent Bitcoin.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2015.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday called for an OSCE investigation into who was behind the deaths of dozens of people in Kiev last month in attacks by snipers, saying the truth could no longer be “covered up”, even as the OSCE mission was turned away from entering Crimea amid what the investigators said was a forced media blackout.
Lavrov’s comments came after Estonia’s top diplomat told EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in a phone call leaked this week that the then-Ukrainian opposition to president Viktor Yanukovych may have been involved in the attacks.
The leaked call has been played up by Russian state media over the last few days and Lavrov’s comments were the latest sign Moscow wants to use the sniper controversy as an argument to discredit Ukraine’s new authorities.
“The latest information about the so-called snipers case can no longer be covered up,” Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow with his Tajik counterpart.
“We have proposed that the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) takes up an objective investigation of this and we will ensure there is justice.
“There have been too many lies, and this lie has been used too long to push European public opinion in the wrong direction, contrary to the objective facts.”
Western states have blamed Yanukovych’s now disbanded elite riot police force for much of the killing that rocked Kiev in February.
However Russia has strongly emphasised the leaked phone call between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Ashton as evidence for its argument that the new post-Yanukovych government in Kiev is made up of dangerous extremists.
“If all those things were to be investigated, then, I think, a completely different picture would be drawn compared to what is being depicted by American media and, unfortunately, by some American and European politicians,” Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told the state-run English language RT channel.
The new anti-Yanukovych Ukrainian government has meanwhile implied that Russia may have itself had a hand in the bloodshed.
In the audio of the February 26 call, whose authenticity was confirmed by Estonia, Paet told Ashton he was informed in Kiev that “they were the same snipers killing people from both sides”.
Dozens of protesters and around 15 police officers were killed in the attacks.
Paet, who had held talks with Ukraine’s new leaders on February 25, added: “It’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”
Ashton sounds taken aback by his remarks: “I think we do want to investigate. I mean I didn’t know. I didn’t pick that up. Gosh.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin had appeared to allude to the controversy in his news conference on Tuesday, a day before the audio tape was posted on Wednesday.
“Have you not heard that now there is the opinion… that these (snipers) were provocateurs from one of the opposition parties? Have you not heard about that?” Putin asked a reporter, saying the information was available on “open sources”.
The release of the tape echoed another tape leaked in February when US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to Kiev, Geoff Pyatt, were heard discussing which opposition figures should be in a new Ukrainian government.
Nuland also used colourful language to criticise the EU, exposing tensions with the bloc at a crucial time. The source of the tape was never made clear but US officials strongly implied Russia was to blame.
The Estonian foreign ministry said it rejected the claim that Paet was “giving an assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence”.
“The fact that this phone call has been leaked is not a coincidence,” it quoted Paet as saying.
OSCE turned away from Crimea
Moscow’s call for an OSCE investigation comes as unarmed observers from the same organisation have been blocked from entering Crimea on three separate occasions. On Saturday they were stopped after shots were fired as they approached a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian forces.
The source said several shots were fired in the air as a convoy including the observers’ buses approached a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian forces, but added that the shots did not appear directed at the observers.
The source said “probably three shots” were fired, “but not because of us, because of one small car that was in the line sight” between the convoy and the checkpoint.
The source noted the shots were fired as soon as they arrived at the checkpoint, at Armyansk on the western road leading from mainland Ukraine into the Crimea peninsula.
Nobody was injured, the source said, adding that about 40 armed men wearing balaclavas and military fatigues were manning the checkpoint.
It was the third day in a row the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had tried and failed to enter Crimea.
On Thursday they were turned away from the checkpoint at Armyansk and on Friday, they were barred from entering at another checkpoint at Chongar, on the eastern road to Crimea.
A source in the monitoring mission said that men at Armyansk seemed more settled on Saturday than during the observers’ first attempt.
“The level of self-confidence today of the armed men was much higher than two days ago,” the source said.
The OSCE had earlier said its observers would try again to enter Crimea on Saturday, adding that its mission now numbered 54 military and civilian staff from 29 countries.
The unarmed observer mission by the Vienna-based OSCE – whose 57 members include Ukraine and Russia – is aimed at defusing tensions in Crimea.
Russian forces have surrounded Ukrainian military bases on the peninsula and local lawmakers have decided to renounce ties with Ukraine and stage a March 16 referendum on switching over to Kremlin rule.
Forced media blackout
In a statement released by the OSCE on Saturday, the mission expressed concern over the forced blackout of media outlets in Crimea.
“Extreme censorship, shutting down media outlets and press hubs and attacks and intimidation of journalists must stop immediately,” Mijatović said. “In times of crisis people must have an unimpeded access to a plurality of sources; otherwise they can be subjected to the worst kind of propaganda.”
KUALA LAMPUR: A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members went missing over the South China Sea on Saturday, presumed crashed, as ships and planes from countries closest to its flight path scoured a large search area for any wreckage.
Vietnamese state media, quoting a senior naval official, had reported that the Boeing 777-200ER flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing had crashed off south Vietnam. Malaysia’s transport minister later denied any crash scene had been identified.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed,” Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
“We are looking for accurate information from the Malaysian military. They are waiting for information from the Vietnamese side,” he said.
Vietnamese Admiral Ngo Van Phat later qualified his earlier remarks about a crash site having been identified and told Reuters he was referring to a presumed location beneath the plane’s flight path, using information supplied by Malaysia.
A crash, if confirmed, would likely mark the US-built Boeing 777-200ER airliner’s deadliest incident since entering service 19 years ago.
The plane disappeared without giving a distress signal – a chilling echo of an Air France flight that crashed into the South Atlantic on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 people on board. It vanished for hours before wreckage was found.
Search and rescue vessels from the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency reached the area where the plane last made contact at about 4.30 p.m. Singapore time (0830 GMT) but saw no immediate sign of wreckage, a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency told Reuters.
Vanished after reaching 35,000 feet
Flight MH370, operating a Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement read to an earlier news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
There were no reports of bad weather in the area.
The airline said people from 14 nationalities were among the 227 passengers – at least 152 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans. A Chinese infant and an American infant were also on board.
“The Australian government fears the worst for those aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370,” a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
Flight tracking website flightaware.com showed the plane flew northeast over Malaysia after takeoff and climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet. The flight vanished from the website’s tracking records a minute later while it was still climbing.
Malaysia and Vietnam were conducting a joint search and rescue operation, while China and the Philippines have sent ships to the South China Sea to help. The Philippines also dispatched a military plane to help in the search.
China has also put other ships and aircraft on standby, said Transport Minister Yang Chuantang.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing before the initial Vietnamese report that the plane had crashed that China was “extremely worried” about the fate of the plane and those on board. “The news is very disturbing. We hope everyone on the plane is safe,” Wang said.
The flight was operating as a China Southern Airlines codeshare.
The flight left Kuala Lumpur at 12.21 a.m. (11.21 a.m. ET Friday) but no trace had been found of the plane more than eight hours after it was due to land in the Chinese capital at 6.30 a.m. (5.30 p.m. ET Friday) the same day.
“We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts with flight MH370,” Jauhari said.
Malaysia Airlines has one of the best safety records among full-service carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.
It identified the pilot of MH370 as Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old Malaysian who joined the carrier in 1981 and has 18,365 hours of flight experience.
Chinese state media said 24 Chinese artists and family members, who were in Kuala Lumpur for an art exchange program, were aboard. The Sichuan provincial government said Zhang Jinquan, a well-known calligrapher, was on the flight.
If it is confirmed that the plane crashed, the loss would mark the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 777 in less than a year and by far the worst since the jet entered service in 1995.
An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crash-landed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers and injuring more than 180.
Boeing said it was monitoring the situation but had no further comment. The flight was operating as a China Southern Airlines codeshare.
An official at the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam said the plane had failed to check in as scheduled at 1721 GMT while it was flying over the sea between Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh city.
Five representatives of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) mission in Pakistan were detained in Kalat and handed over to the authorities for making a trip to Quetta from Karachi without the interior ministry’s clearance. They were released after being held overnight.
“The Arabs were travelling with two Pakistani nationals — a driver and a cook — when the Levies personnel intercepted them on the RCD Highway near the Mangochar area in Kalat,” Kalat Deputy Commissioner Salahuddin Norzai told The Express Tribune.
Norzai said that the UAE mission representatives had violated the law by not obtaining prior permission for travel in the province from the interior ministry.
The UAE nationals, identified as Ibrahim, Abdullah, Rashid, Abdullah and Saeed, lied to the investigators telling them they were in Balochistan for an important meeting. But they had travelled there only for the sake of adventure.
Since they were “foreign dignitaries” no case was registered against them under the Foreigners Act even though they had flouted the law.
Foreigners are not allowed to travel in Balochistan without a no objection certificate (NOC) owing to security concerns. The province faces multiple crises ranging from Baloch insurgency, sectarian violence and Taliban attacks.
“It is a sensitive area and too dangerous for foreigners to travel without security. The foreigners did not realise that it could have cost them their lives,” Salahuddin added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2014.
THE HAGUE: Syria was removing its chemical arsenal at “an increased pace” with almost a third of its stockpile having been taken out of the war-torn country, the world’s chemical watchdog said on Friday.
But Damascus remained behind schedule as yet another target date loomed next week, ahead of a June 30 deadline to hand over or destroy its arsenal, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in The Hague.
The body’s 41-country Executive Council in a statement noted the “increasing pace” of the removal of Syria’s stockpile, at the end of a four-day meeting at its headquarters.
The council also “positively noted” the progress that has been made “with respect to eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons programme.”
But it als stressed “delays… have occurred about which concerns were expressed.”
The combined United Nations-OPCW mission has now verified that nearly 29.0 percent of the total chemical stockpile have been removed for destruction outside the country, the watchdog said.
Earlier this week OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu told the meeting that Syria had submitted a revised proposal to complete the removal of all chemicals from Syria before the end of April after previously saying it could only complete the job by June.
Syria was to have shipped out most dangerous Category 1 chemicals by December 31 and Category 2 chemicals by February 5.
Syria has also destroyed 93 percent of its stocks of isopropanol, used to make sarin nerve gas, a task that was supposed to have been completed by March 1.
Once Syria has delivered its chemicals to the main port Latakia, they are to be taken by Western warships to a US vessel, the MV Cape Ray, aboard which they will be broken down at sea using hydrolysis, a process expected to take 90 days.
That means the entire disarmament and destruction process may well overrun the June 30 deadline, agreed by Russia and the US last year as part of a plan to avert US-backed military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus blamed by the West on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The next target date is March 15 when Syria is supposed to have destroyed its 12 chemical weapon production facilities.
UN Security Council resolution 2118 was passed after a massive chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in several opposition areas around Damascus in August.
Rebels and the regime exchanged blame for that attack.
KARACHI: After news emerged that an Indian university had suspended and charged some Kashmiri students with sedition for supporting Pakistan in their Asia Cup match against India, a Pakistani black hat temporarily defaced the official website of Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU).
MUMBAI: An Indian naval officer was killed and “some” dock workers were injured Friday in a gas leak aboard a yet-to-be commissioned naval ship, the defence ministry said.
The accident was the latest in a string to hit the navy.
“Commander Kuntal Wadhwa has died,” Commander Rahul Sinha, chief defence ministry spokesperson, told AFP.
A statement by the defence ministry said “some” dock workers were injured but did not say how many or disclose the nature of the injuries.
The accident occurred aboard the ship called Yard 701 by its builders, the Mazagaon Dock Ltd, in Mumbai, headquarters of India’s Western Naval Command.
The ship was undergoing trials at the Mumbai Port Trust when its carbon dioxide unit developed a problem, causing the gas leakage and injuries, the defence ministry said in the statement.
“It is a destroyer with stealth features and we were hoping to hand it over to the navy in a month’s time,” Parvez Panthanky, a spokesperson for the Mazagaon Dock, told reporters.
The ship is set to be the first in a new class of destroyers.
The naval spokesperson said the accident would cause a delay in commissioning of the ship.
More details about the cause of the accident would only be available after talking to the shipbuilders, the spokesperson said.
The Indian Navy has been without a chief since Admiral DK Joshi resigned last month after a fire on one of the country’s submarines, the INS Sindhuratna, killed two officers.
Indian Navy ships have been hit by a series of accidents in the past few months with the worst involving the INS Sindurakshak, a submarine which burst into flames in Mumbai harbour last August, killing 18 sailors and sinking the vessel.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Friday listed the Muslim Brotherhood and two Syrian groups as terrorist organisations, and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return within 15 days or face imprisonment.
The move represents a major escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the possible return of battle-hardened Saudi extremists from Syria.
In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi listed Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a rogue group fighting in both Syria and Iraq, as terrorist organisations.
The interior ministry decree, which was released by state media, also listed as terrorist groups the Shai Huthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen and “Hezbollah inside the kingdom”, apparently referring to a little-known Saudi Shia group.
The order penalises involvement in any of the groups’ activities at home or abroad — including demonstrations — and outlaws the use of “slogans of these organisations”, including in social media.
It also forbids “participation in, calling for, or incitement to fighting in conflict zones in other countries”.
Riyadh is a staunch supporter of the Sunni-led rebels battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has long feared blowback from radical jihadist groups, particularly after a spate of attacks by a local Al-Qaeda franchise from 2003 to 2006.
King Abdullah last month decreed jail terms of up to 20 years for belonging to “terrorist groups” and fighting abroad.
Similar sentences will be passed on those belonging to “extremist religious and ideological groups, or those classified as terrorist organisations, domestically, regionally and internationally,” state news agency SPA said at the time.
Supporting such groups, adopting their ideology or promoting them “through speech or writing” would also incur prison terms, the decree added.
Rights group Amnesty International sharply criticised last month’s decree, saying it could be used to suppress peaceful political dissent because the law used an “overly vague definition of terrorism”.
Saudi Arabia set up specialised terrorism courts in 2011 to try dozens of nationals and foreigners accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda or being involved in a wave of bloody attacks that swept the country from 2003.
Saudi and other conservative Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority.
The decision to brand the Brotherhood a terrorist group came a day after Saudi, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, which had been a staunch supporter of Morsi and backs Brotherhood-linked groups across the region.
It was an unprecedented escalation of tensions within the Gulf Cooperation Council — which also includes Kuwait and Oman — and was widely seen as signalling Gulf fury at Qatari support for extremist groups following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
It was also seen as a revival of the on-again, off-again rivalry between Riyadh and Doha, oil- and gas-rich monarchies that have long vied for regional influence.
Saudi hailed the overthrow of Morsi and pledged billions of dollars to Egypt’s military-installed government following his July 2013 ouster, and in recent months has eclipsed Qatar as the main backer of Syria’s rebels.
Egypt, which has launched a sweeping crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and detained reporters from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news network, on Thursday welcomed the Gulf countries’ decision to recall their envoys from Doha.
It said its own envoy, who has been in Cairo since early February, “will not return to Qatar at the present time, and his remaining (in Egypt) is a sovereign political decision”.
“It is for Qatar to clearly determine its position, whether it will stand on the side of Arab solidarity, unified ranks and protection of national security… or on the other side, and bear the consequences and responsibility for that,” a government statement said.
PARIS: Global warming will expose millions more people to malaria as parasite-bearing mosquitoes move to higher altitudes, according to new research into the health perils from climate change.
Tropical highland areas in Africa, Asia and central and southern America are particularly at risk, a study in the US journal Science said Thursday.
Malaria, which killed an estimated 620,000 people in 2012, is among a host of diseases that researchers warn will spread more easily thanks to global warming.
For Ethiopia alone, “a one-degree-Celsius increase in temperature will lift the area where malaria can occur by 150 metres,” Menno Bouma of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told AFP.
“In this band, there live about six to nine million people. These people will be additionally affected, but also people that live a bit lower, where malaria is present but at a lower level. For those people, the malaria intensity is likely to increase.”
Bouma and a team scrutinised malaria records from the highland regions of Colombia from 1990 to 2005 and Ethiopia from 1993 to 2005.
They found that in warmer years, people living at higher elevations experienced more malaria infections than they do in cooler years.
“This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect,” said University of Michigan ecologist Mercedes Pascual.
“The main implication is that with warmer temperatures, we expect to see a higher number of people exposed to the risk of malaria in tropical highland areas like these.”
People in areas previously unaffected by malaria never built up immunity, and will be particularly vulnerable.
Bouma said other tropical highland areas surrounded by malaria-endemic regions “are likely to be affected by a similar principle” as found in the study.
These included parts of Peru, Ecuador, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Papua New Guinea.
But Bouma said the study did not automatically imply a higher malaria risk for all countries at higher altitudes, as a special mix of climate and socio-economic conditions had to be present.
Transferred by a parasite transmitted through mosquito bites, malaria can be prevented with nets, insecticides and medicines.
Symptoms include fever, headache, and vomiting. If left untreated, it can kill by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.
Malaria is not the only threat to human health receiving a boost from global warming.
“Many of the major killers such as diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, malaria and dengue are highly climate-sensitive and are expected to worsen as the climate changes,” according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dengue, which is a mosquito-borne disease like malaria, is spreading at an alarming rate and had “epidemic potential”, according to the UN agency.
It causes high fever, headaches, itching and joint pains, and can lead to haemorrhaging and death.
Scientists warned in 2012 that the warmer, wetter climate in northwestern Europe and the Balkans was becoming suitable for the Asian tiger mosquito which spreads dengue, West Nile fever, yellow fever and chikungunya, an East African disease which attacks the joints.
The mosquito is an invasive species first spotted in Europe in Albania in 1979 — possibly having arrived there in a shipment of goods from China, investigators believe.
The health risks from climate change loom large in an upcoming report by the UN’s Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
A draft document to be vetted at an IPCC meeting in Yokohama, Japan, at the end of March, warns that climate change this century “will lead to increases in ill-health in many regions”.
“Examples include greater likelihood of injury, disease and death due to more intense heat waves and fires; increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions’ risk from lost work capacity and reduced labour productivity in vulnerable populations; and increased risks from food- and water-borne diseases,” it says.
PUTRAJAYA: A Malaysian court sentenced opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail on Friday after finding the former deputy prime minister guilty of sodomizing his aide in 2008.
The maximum punishment for the offence was a jail term of up to 20 years and whipping.
Anwar’s lawyers said they will apply for a stay of execution of the sentence pending an appeal to the country’s Federal Court.
ANKARA: Turkey’s embattled prime minister has warned that his government could ban popular social media networks YouTube and Facebook after a number of online leaks added momentum to a spiralling corruption scandal.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tightened his government’s grip over the Internet, generating criticism at home and abroad about rights in the EU-hopeful country.
“There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30… including a ban (on YouTube, Facebook),” Erdogan told private ATV television in an interview late Thursday.
Erdogan, Turkey’s all-powerful leader since 2003, has been under mounting pressure after audio recordings were leaked last month in which he and his son allegedly discuss how to hide vast sums of money.
The Turkish premier dismissed them as a “vile” and an “immoral” montage by rivals ahead of key local elections on March 30. His office claimed the recordings were “completely untrue”.
A series of other leaks on YouTube showed Erdogan allegedly meddling in trade deals and court cases.
Erdogan’s government has also been shaken by a high-level corruption scandal that erupted in mid-December and ensnared the premier’s key political and business allies.
Erdogan has waged a war against ally-turned-opponent Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric based in the United States with strong influence over the country’s police and the judiciary, of orchestrating the graft probe.
He has accused so-called “Gulenists” of acting like a “parallel state” and vowed to cleanse the state of the movement’s supporters by purging police and passing laws to increase his grip over the Internet and the judiciary.
“Social media has turned into a domain for quite some time where the battle between the loyalists of the frustrated prime minister and the alleged ‘parallel state’ is in full swing,” Asli Tunc, professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, told AFP.
“The government is seeking to find channels to shut down the social media which leaks tapes or dissident views. People cling to social media tools like Twitter for their news because the mainstream media or TVs are cowering in fear,” she said.
Erdogan’s latest threat about Facebook and YouTube is a reflection of his political frustration in the run up to elections, according to Tunc, but she said the premier was also known for his intolerance toward the social media.
Erdogan is openly suspicious of the Internet, branding Twitter a “menace” last year for helping organise mass anti-government protests in which eight people died and thousands were injured.
“I don’t have that much time to waste in Twitter,” he said last month.
Tunc said that in undemocratic countries governments tended to control the social media because its dynamic structure “runs contrary to their policies”.
Access to thousands of websites have been blocked in recent years in Turkey.
YouTube was previously banned for two years until 2010 because of material deemed insulting to the country’s still-revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The site still managed to be one of the most visited in Turkey, with users including Erdogan himself resorting to proxy servers to dodge the ban.
“I can get in (YouTube), you can too”, Erdogan famously said at the time, referring to those servers that provided a backdoor to the site.
Further Internet curbs allowed the authorities to keep a record of someone’s web activity for up to two years and block sites deemed insulting or as invading privacy, which critics denounced as “Orwellian”.
Critics say however that the latest curbs are aimed at preventing further details from the corruption scandal being leaked online.
The European Union has voiced its “concerns” that the Internet law would limit freedom of expression, urging Ankara to ensure compliance with the bloc’s standards.
MOSCOW / SIMFEROPOL: President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow’s military intervention in Crimea, saying on Friday that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.
After an hour-long telephone call, Putin said in a statement that Moscow and Washington were still far apart on the situation in the former Soviet republic, where he said the new authorities had taken “absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.
“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” Putin said.
The most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia. The region’s government set a referendum for March 16 – in just nine days’ time.
European Union leaders and Obama denounced the proposed referendum as illegitimate, saying it would violate Ukraine’s constitution.
Before calling Putin, Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia since the start of the crisis, ordering visa bans and asset freezes against so far unidentified persons deemed responsible for threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Japan endorsed the Western position that Russia’s actions constitute “a threat to international peace and security” on the crisis after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.
Brussels and Washington also rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance.
In their telephone call, Obama said he urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution, and said the dispute over Crimea could be resolved in a way that took account of Russia’s legitimate interests in the region.
Putin was defiant on Ukraine, where he said pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich had been overthrown in an “anti-constitutional coup” last month. But he stressed what he called “the paramount important of Russian-American relations to ensure stability and security in the world”, the Kremlin said.
“These relations should not be sacrificed for individual differences, albeit very important ones, over international problems,” Putin said.
He maintained Moscow was not behind the seizure of Crimea, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Russia says the troops without national insignia that have surround Ukrainian bases are “local self-defence units”. The West has ridiculed this argument.
After talks in Rome on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was personally delivering proposals to Putin to end the crisis.
Kerry said the executive order signed by Obama on Thursday provided a legal framework for imposing sanctions but also left open the door for dialogue.
The 28-nation EU welcomed Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk to its emergency summit, even though Kiev is neither a member nor a recognised candidate to join the bloc, and agreed to bring forward the signing of the political parts of an agreement on closer ties before Ukraine’s May 25 elections.
“No one will give up Crimea to anyone,” Yatseniuk told a news conference in Brussels, while Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, called the planned referendum “a farce, a fake, a crime”.
The European Commission said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which requires painful economic reforms like ending gas subsidies.
Despite Putin’s tough words, demonstrators who have remained encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede.
Some said they were willing to go to war with Russia, despite the mismatch between the two countries’ armed forces.
“We are optimists. Crimea will stand with us and we will fight for it,” said Taras Yurkiv, 35, from the eastern city of Lviv. “How we will fight depends on the decisions of our leadership. If necessary, we will go with force. If you want peace, you must prepare for war.”
Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure.
“I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.”
On the ground in Crimea, the situation was calm although 35 unarmed military observers dispatched by the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were denied entry into the peninsula after landing in the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa.
A U.N. special envoy who travelled to the regional capital Simferopol on Tuesday was surrounded by pro-Russian protesters, some of them armed, and forced to leave on Tuesday. The United Nations said it was sending its assistant secretary-general for human rights to the region soon.
In eastern Ukraine, police on Thursday ejected pro-Russian demonstrators who had occupied government headquarters in the city of Donetsk, Yanukovich’s home town, ending a siege that Kiev saw as part of a Russian plan to create a pretext to invade.
LAHORE: India is trying to destablise Pakistan and is discussing this with Afghanistan as well, claimed Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) ameer Syed Munawar Hassan while speaking to the media in Lahore.
He further alleged that India was involved in conspiracies in order to weaken Pakistan.
Hassan also said that the government should expose those who were carrying out attacks under Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) name.
Expressing his opinion on the peace talks, the JI chief said that improvement in peace negotiations are expected, adding that overseas Pakistanis also have high expectations.
In response to a question asked by a reporter, Hassan stated that Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami Fazl chief Fazlur Rehman was part of the government and should not talk negatively about the peace negotiations, further stating that Rehman should speak according to his status.
When asked whether the army should be involved in peace negotiations, Hassan remarked that the army is an institution of the government and government can use it’s institutions however it pleases.
A mass stabbing at a train station in China’s Yunnan province late on Saturday left 27 people dead and 109 injured, state media reported.
Victims said knife-wielding attackers dressed in black burst into Kunming railway station and started slashing indiscriminately. The incident “was an organised, premeditated violent terrorist attack” carried out by “unidentified knife-wielding people,” the official news agency Xinhua said, citing authorities.
Police shot dead a number of the perpetrators at the train station, according to posts by local television station K6 on its official Sina Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
Officers sealed off a wide area around the station, it added, while Xinhua said they were still questioning people at the site.
Meanwhile, ambulances had delivered the injured to hospitals around the city, K6 reported.
The attackers carried knives and were dressed in similar black clothing, the official China News Service said, citing eyewitnesses.
“A group of men carrying weapons burst into the train station plaza and the ticket hall, stabbing whoever they saw,” it said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2014.
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama told President Vladimir Putin on Saturday that Russia’s dispatch of troops to Ukraine flouted international law and warned he was courting political isolation if the incursion continues.
Obama also spelled out the right of the people of Ukraine to chart their own destiny and symbolically began to line up the long-time Western alliance against Russia, calling the leaders of France and Canada.
The US leader’s 90-minute telephone call with Putin represented the kind of direct confrontation between the men who run the White House and the Kremlin rarely seen since the end of the Cold War.
The White House account of the call was unusually detailed and blunt, hinting at tense exchanges as fractures deepened in a diplomatic relationship that has been deteriorating since Putin returned as president in 2012.
“President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said.
Obama told Putin that his actions were a “breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine.”
The White House statement appeared designed to underscore the gravity of the situation, and as a message to political opponents who say Obama shows insufficient steel as a leader and declines to enforce US red lines.
Asked about the tone of the call, a senior US official resorted to diplomatic parlance indicating an uncomfortable conversation, describing it as “what you’d expect: candid and direct.”
Obama team mulls options
Obama’s national security team met at the White House to mull options on Ukraine, a day after the president warned that Putin’s actions would incur “costs.”
The US President told Putin those costs would entail an immediate halt from the US side to preparatory talks on the G8 summit in the Olympic resort of Sochi on the Black Sea in June.
The crisis deepened after Putin secured an endorsement by lawmakers to send troops to Ukraine.
Officials in Kiev had earlier said Russia had already dispatched 30 armored personnel carriers and 6,000 additional troops into Crimea to help pro-Kremlin militia gain broader independence from the new pro-EU leaders in Kiev.
Obama called on Putin to de-escalate the situation by pulling his troops back to Russian barracks in the Crimean peninusla.
But in a sign his appeal fell on deaf ears, a Russian readout of the call hinted at an expansion of the operation, as Putin reserved the right to protect Russian interests in eastern Ukraine.
Obama did use the call to recognise deep cultural ties between Ukraine and Russia and to state that there was a need to protect ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republic.
But the proper way to do that, he said, was through a dialogue with the government in Kiev formed following the ouster of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanucovych.
He suggested the dispatch of international observers appointed by the United Nations Security Council and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to safeguard ethnic Russians.
Obama also stated strong support for the Kiev government and pledged to work with bodies like the International Monetary Fund, the OSCE and NATO to mitigate its deepening economic crisis and ensure its democratic aspirations.
The US president also called French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leaders of Atlantic nations along with Britain, which formed the backbone of post-war Western resistance to the Soviet Union.
The leaders expressed “grave concern” over Russia’s intervention into Ukraine, a White House statement said.
Washington also upped the diplomatic offensive at the United Nations.
US Ambassador Samantha Power branded Russia’s parliamentary approval “as dangerous as it is destabilising.”
“The message is pull back your forces. Let us engage in political dialogue, engage with the Ukrainian government which is reaching out to you for that dialogue,” Power said.
But meaningful action on the crisis at the UN seems unlikely, given Russia’s veto power as a permanent Security Council member.
Before Putin and Obama connected, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
A US defense official said there had been “no change” to Washington’s defense posture in the European region.
Another official said that Obama did not take part in the wider meeting of his national security officials, but was briefed by National Security Adviser Susan Rice and other key aides.
Washington appears to have limited options to change Putin’s calculations.
In addition to snubbing the G8 summit, it could cut off economic and trade cooperation that Moscow wants to deepen, or impose sanctions on Russian finance institutions or key officials.
Obama could order a show of military support for US allies in eastern Europe through NATO, but wants to avoid a Cold War-style chess match with Moscow.
He also needs Russian support for several key foreign policy priorities including nuclear talks with Iran and destroying Syria’s chemical arms.
China’s manufacturing growth fell to an eight-month low in February, government figures showed on Saturday, reflecting further weakening in the world’s second-largest economy but also the effect of a major holiday.
The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) tumbled to 50.2, the National Bureau of Statistics reported on its website, in the third straight drop from 50.5 in January, 51.0 in December and 51.4 in November.
A figure over 50 indicates expansion while one below shows contraction. This marked China’s 17th consecutive month of manufacturing growth but at a slowing rate — the lowest since a June reading of 50.1.
China’s economic growth has weakened in recent years, hitting 7.7% in 2013, the lowest level since 1999. Analysts expect a further drop to 7.5% this year.
The lowered forecast comes as Beijing has pledged to reform the country’s growth model so that consumers and other private actors play a more significant role, rather than massive and often wasteful state investment.
Whereas in the past authorities have reacted quickly to inject cash to stimulate a slowing economy, recently they have remained tight-fisted instead.
Two liquidity crunches occurred last year in part because officials sought to impose stricter discipline over banks amid burgeoning debt levels.
But the recent Lunar New Year, China’s most important holiday, may also have dampened results, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists Ting Lu and Xiaojia Zhi said in a research note.
“We believe the drop was mainly impacted by the Lunar New Year holiday,” they wrote, adding that they expected a bounce back up to 50.5 in March.
“Markets will likely respond negatively to the reading but the impact could be limited. Policies are unlikely to be impacted by these distorted PMI readings,” they said.
In another closely watched indicator of Chinese manufacturing, British banking giant HSBC said last week its preliminary PMI reading for February dropped to a seven-month low, to 48.3, down from a final figure for January of 49.5.
HSBC is set to release its final PMI reading for February on Monday.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2014.
NEW DELHI: Controversial former Indian army chief, who had resigned from the military following a controversy over his age, on Saturday announced that he had joined the nationalist opposition ahead of looming elections.
India’s massive armed forces normally stay out of politics, but retired General VK Singh had been tipped to enter the arena since resigning as the head of the army in May 2012, after being accused of altering his birth date to extend his service term.
Singh said he was joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to sweep the polls due by May, to “elect a stable, powerful government that can take decisions in the national interest”.
The ex-army chief had been expected to become a BJP member after appearing last year at a rally with the opposition party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, where they addressed retired soldiers.
BJP backers are hoping Singh’s support will bring votes from India’s million-strong defence forces, an important constituency.
Several other former defence officers joined the BJP with Singh, who sought to rally the crowd with cries of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan,” “hail soldier, hail farmer.”
Singh’s relations with the scandal-tainted Congress government, which is struggling in opinion polls, were soured by the row over his birth date.
In an unprecedented move by a serving army chief, Singh dragged the government to the Supreme Court in a bid to prolong his tenure by nearly a year.
The trouble sprang from two sets of birth records held by the army for the former general. The court sided with the government in its view that the birth date, which made Singh older, should prevail.
After retiring from his post, Singh blamed the government for a host of problems during his two years as army chief including rows over dilapidated weaponry.
In his address at the BJP’s headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday, Singh accused the government of failing to ensure the security of India’s armed forces.
He noted incursions in recent months by Chinese forces along India’s porous border.
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday secured a vote in upper house of parliament for the use of Russian troops as a ‘stabilising contingent’ in Crimea, the Kremlin said, despite warnings from the US not to intervene.
“In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens… I submit to the Federation Council a request to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory until the normalisation of the political situation in that country,” the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying in the document.
Putin said that Russia also had to protect servicemen from its Black Sea Fleet which is based on the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea “fully in line with an international accord”.
The request was made on the basis of point “G” of the first part of section 102 of the Russian constitution on allowing the use of Russian troops beyond the borders of the country.
There were no further details on the document and Putin has yet to speak publicly about the situation in Ukraine since the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych last week.
Putin’s move came after the heads of both the lower and upper houses of parliament on Saturday urged him to take measures over the situation in Ukraine and in particular the overwhelmingly pro-Russian peninsula of Crimea.
Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko said earlier that it is possible “to send a limited contingent of troops to ensure the security of the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens.”
Meanwhile, the speaker of the State Duma lower house Sergei Naryshkin read out a request in the name of all MPs for Putin to use “all possibilities” to restore stability in Crimea.
Ukraine’s new Defence Minister Igor Tenyukh said Saturday the Russian forces are already in the country, accusing Russia of sending 30 armoured personnel carriers and 6,000 additional troops into Crimea.
Unlike most legislations in Russia, the use of armed forces abroad only requires the approval of the rubber-stamp Federation Council without any need for a preliminary okay from the State Duma lower house.
The Kremlin has been rattled by the sudden overthrow of Yanukovych and the installation of pro-EU and sometimes staunchly anti-Russian new authorities in his place, fearing a permanent loss of influence in Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbour.
US President Barack Obama on Friday warned that “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”.