News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Sink or swim in modern China

Sink or swim in modern China

Chris Hogg heads to the small Chinese village of Zhushanxia, 200km from Shanghai, to see how lives have been shaped by the economy under communist rule, the recession and the country’s economic recovery.

A farmer sells vegetables at a wholesale market on March 22, 2005 in Hefei of Anhui Province, China

China’s economic roller-coaster has divided communities and villages into those who have sunk financially, and those who managed to swim

Huang Jiao Ling lives at the end of a long dusty road.

Mobile phone numbers are daubed all over the walls of her home and those of her neighbours.

It is like a strange kind of mathematical graffiti, but the numbers are, in fact, advertisements for people offering goods and services.

In modern China, it seems everyone has something to sell.

Huang Jiao Ling, too, is an entrepreneur. She is in her 50s, but she looks younger.

In her front garden, where others might have planted vegetables, she has built a small workshop.

Inside, the walls are unfinished and the floor uneven, but there is just about enough room for a work-bench and a handful of basic machine tools.

Churning out widgets

On the floor are cardboard boxes filled with piles of tiny metal widgets.

They are simple to make – her husband sits at the bench turning them out rapidly by hand.

Fruit seller in China

Many Chinese run their own small businesses in order to get ahead

A few feet away, his bicycle-taxi is parked just inside the front door of the house.

The machine work is a lot less tiring than pedalling passengers around, but he still keeps the bike.

It is useful, he says, to supplement their income in leaner times.

The Huangs sell the boxes of widgets to the factory where Huang Jiao Ling has a full-time job.

For a while this year they had to shut the workshop as demand dropped, but now the machines are humming again.

They have two children, because if you live in the country and your first child is a girl, you are allowed to have another one.

The girls go to very good schools, the best Huang Jiao Ling can afford.

She spends more than half her income on school fees.

“We have to think of their future,” she tells me.

“It’s a Chinese tradition. Parents always think of their children, and when the parents get old, their children will look after them. It’s the same for every generation.”

Yu Feng Guo is Huang Jiao Ling’s brother-in-law.

She is doing well for herself in China’s new modern market economy, but he has been left behind.

He used to work in a state-owned brick factory.

Different lifestyles

When the economic reforms began 30 years ago he watched as some of his co-workers left their jobs to start up their own small businesses, many of them selling prawns or fish by the side of the road.

He decided to do what he thought was the right thing, what the communist party would expect of a loyal worker in a state-owned enterprise – he stayed.

Eventually, the brick factory went bust and he was out of a job.

Rice paddy field

Agriculture provides an income for many rural Chinese

Now, dressed in a shabby khaki jacket, he works as a security guard in an open-air food market.

Those early entrepreneurs who had left his factory to try their luck in the fledgling market economy are now much richer than him and to his family this seems unfair.

“Thirty years ago everyone in the village was poor,” his son tells me.

“Now the difference in lifestyle between the rich and the poor in our village is huge.”

There is an implicit bargain in modern Chinese society between the leaders and the led.

Beijing tells its people “we will give you opportunities” – to earn more, to enjoy a better standard of living than your parents did.

But you, in return, will behave yourself.

Back on track

In Zhushanxia village quite a few cars can be seen bumping along past the fields, something you would not have seen 30 years ago.

If you have got used to having more, whether it’s a car, or a bigger house, or a more expensive school for your child, you have more to lose when times get tough.

That is why it is so important for the government to get the economy back on track.

When it first faltered, when factories started laying off workers, there was a risk that they would start to feel the government was no longer keeping to its side of the deal, so why should they?

So in Beijing, of course, there will be relief that a recovery appears to be under way.

But the next challenge for the government will be to do more to try to ensure that everyone shares the benefits.

Huang Jiao Ling is happy her workshop is busy again, but still nervous about the future.

So she, like most other Chinese, is saving as much of her income as she can.

Her brother-in-law Yu Feng Guo, has no idea how he will be able to save enough to secure a state pension on his meagre wages from his unstable job.

He and others like him will be looking to their leaders for reassurance that they will be cared for as they approach old age.

But that will costly and complicated. Fixing the economy may prove to have been the easy part.

September 22, 2008

Quiet Biden back to the fore

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 12:09 am

Quiet Biden back to the fore

Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally in Ohio, 17 September 2008

Joe Biden’s task is to paint his rival Sarah Palin as untried and untested

Amid the hyper inflated excitement that still follows Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wherever she goes, it is sometimes easy to forget that she has a rival for the job – Joseph Biden.

Remember him? You know, the grey-haired guy Barack Obama picked to be his running mate on the Democratic party ticket.

When he strode out onto the stage in Denver to accept his party’s nomination, Joe Biden had the media’s full attention.

Two days later it was gone. And it seems he has struggled ever since to get it back.

What happened? Sarah Palin happened. Everywhere she goes, a large media posse follows.

In contrast, Joe Biden’s press plane travels the country with a large number of conspicuously empty seats.

Supporters of the Delaware senator say he is quietly getting on with the job, going from town to town, meeting voters, patiently answering their questions and making the case that he and Barack Obama represent the real change in the race for the White House.

Blue collar votes

On the campaign trail Joe Biden has been trying to stress that, with every fibre of his working class roots, he understands the pain of ordinary American families in these troubled economic times – understands in a way, he says, that his old friend John McCain simply cannot.

JOE BIDEN
Joseph Biden addresses the crowd in Illinois as Barack Obama sits
Ran for presidency in 1988
Delaware senator since 1972
A straight talker, who makes occasional gaffes

That, of course, was partly why he was picked: to appeal to an important part of the electorate with which Barack Obama has consistently struggled to connect – blue collar workers.

It was also assumed that Mr Biden would act as the sharp-tongued attack dog, allowing Mr Obama to remain above the fray.

With his long experience in the Senate, especially on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, it was argued that Joe Biden could simultaneously fill the perceived gaps in Mr Obama’s resume and go toe to toe with John McCain – one old scrapper to another.

Mr Biden has stuck to his task. But he has not set the world on fire. Then again, perhaps he was not meant to – that has always been Barack Obama’s strong suit.

Joe Biden was meant to be the reassuring older hand helping to guide the charismatic presidential challenger safely towards the White House.

He was, in a way, the classic “do no harm” pick for vice-president.

Veep debate

Despite concerns about his reputation for long-winded ramblings, sprinkled with the occasional spice of verbal gaffes, Joe Biden has hardly put a foot wrong.

Two recent quotes have raised some eyebrows though, and, interestingly, perhaps raised his media profile again.

  • First, he said Hillary Clinton may have been a better choice for the vice-presidential nomination (after all the effort at the Denver convention to heal party wounds, why on Earth would he want to expose that scar again?)
  • Then he said that wealthy people should consider it their patriotic duty to pay higher taxes. That brought rapid fire from the McCain-Palin campaign team and at least got the television pundits talking about him again

But it is his next big moment in the spotlight that will really test Joe Biden’s calibre – the vice-presidential debate in Missouri on 2 October.

Insider v hockey mom?

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin actually have some things in common.

Both claim to speak the language of the ordinary, hard-working, American family. Both eschew ivy league intellectualism. Both have sons serving in Iraq.

Sarah Palin, file pic

Like Joe Biden, Sarah Palin eschews ivy league intellectualism

But, of course, it will be the differences everyone will be focusing on.

Joe Biden’s task will be to paint his opponent as untried and untested; too risky to place a heartbeat away from the presidency.

But he has to make that case without appearing patronising or demeaning, or in any other way opening himself up to the charge of sexism.

The silver-haired, battle-hardened, Washington insider versus the self-styled hockey mom from the remote reaches of Alaska.

It is one of the most keenly anticipated bouts of the entire election, and perhaps more than any of its predecessors, it could have a real influence on the outcome.

September 16, 2008

Palin’s appeal to white women

Palin’s appeal to white women

What is it about Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin that appeals to women voters? The BBC’s Paul Moss has been finding out in the US state of Illinois.

Sarah Palin in Anchorage, Alaska, 13 Sept

Many women admire Mrs Palin for her hard work as a mother-of-five

It was hard to tell who was most disappointed. A torrential downpour meant the American football game at Barrington High School had to be canceled.

The kids stared at the cloudy skies and grumbled. But some of their mothers seemed even more crestfallen.

“We look forward to the game,” one told me. “Everyone gets really into it, screaming, yelling. It is disappointing.”

I had traveled to Barrington, out in Cook County, Illinois, to meet some of America’s “football moms” – the army of women who turn out every weekend across America, to cheer on their sporting sons and daughters.

They are loyal, they are dedicated. And now, many of them are also big fans of Sarah Palin.

“She says it like it is,” I was told, a common description of the young governor from Alaska. “She’s hard-working, and I think she has strong moral values.”

Mrs Palin’s large family formed the basis of many compliments from the “football moms”.

“She’s doing great things, supporting her church and supporting her family. Five children is a lot in this day and age.”

‘Pioneer woman’

This is all sweet political music to the ears of the US Republican Party. The choice of 44-year-old Mrs Palin as its vice-presidential candidate was always meant to secure the support of women voters, as well as religious conservatives.

WHITE WOMEN VOTERS’ SWING
ABC/Washington Post: 7 Sept – 53% for McCain, 41% for Obama (20 point swing to McCain since 22 Aug)
NBC/Wall Street Journal: 9 Sept – 52% for McCain, 41% for Obama (11 point swing to McCain since Aug)
Quinnipiac University: 9 Sept – Pennsylvania, 5 point swing to McCain since 26 Aug; Ohio, four point swing to McCain since 26 Aug; Florida, two point swing to Obama since 26 Aug

And since she appeared on the scene, some polls have shown white women swinging away from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican John McCain.

One, an ABC/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this month, suggested Mr McCain’s standing with white women had improved by 20 points since Mrs Palin was brought on board.

“Women see themselves reflected in her image,” according to Christine Dudley, a long-time Republican campaigner, based now in Chicago.

She argues that to understand Mrs Palin’s popularity, you have to realise that the US still sees itself as a nation of frontier dwellers.

“Here is a woman in the most remote of states, she shoots guns and fishes… she really is a pioneer woman in the modern sense.”

Sore point

But Mrs Palin’s claim to champion the position of women is not universally welcomed among America’s feminists.

It is true that some have argued the very fact of her candidacy is a step forward for women’s equality.

Nancy Matthews

Nancy Matthews says Mrs Palin appeals to American notions of individualism

But Nancy Matthews, a professor of Women’s Studies at Illinois University, sees her appealing more to American notions of individualism.

“You have people who say they believe that women should have the right to be in all kinds of positions in government, but that won’t carry over into the ideology of the women’s movement,” she argues.

The fact that Mrs Palin is against women’s right to an abortion (unless the mother’s life is at risk) is a particularly sore point for Professor Matthews and other feminist writers. Mrs Palin, they argue, stands for traditional values, not for social change.

But faux-feminist or not, Sarah Palin undoubtedly presents a challenge to the Democratic Party.

It is really impossible to that at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton] voters or independent voters are going to look to Sarah Palin as somebody they believe in
Lisa Madigan
Attorney general for Illinois

It normally polls better among women than men, a trend that Mr Obama was continuing. The party needs to win them back, if they are going to have any chance of victory in November.

“What’s critical, as far as Democrats are concerned, is that they stay focused on issues,” says Lisa Madigan, attorney general for Illinois.

The war in Iraq, energy policy – these are the areas she believes will expose Mrs Palin as lacking sufficient knowledge for the job.

“It is really impossible to believe,” Ms Madigan says, “that at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton] voters or independent voters are going to look to Sarah Palin as somebody they believe in.”

But it is not so impossible to believe, if you listen to the football moms of Barrington High. I asked Mrs Palin’s supporters there if there were any specific policies of hers they admire. None could name a single one, but that did not seem to dampen their admiration.

“She’s interesting, she’s hard-working,” I was told. “I think she’s going to do a great job.”

September 14, 2008

Taxi drivers ‘have brain sat-nav’

Taxi drivers ‘have brain sat-nav’

Sid James in a London cab (BBC)

The knowledge: London cabbies are famous for knowing their way around

Scientists have uncovered evidence for an inbuilt “sat-nav” system in the brains of London taxi drivers.

They used magnetic scanners to explore the brain activity of taxi drivers as they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets.

Different brain regions were activated as they considered route options, spotted familiar landmarks or thought about their customers.

The research was presented at this week’s BA Science Festival.

Earlier studies had shown that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.

Their brains even “grow on the job” as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London’s labyrinth of streets – information famously referred to as “The Knowledge”.

“We were keen to go beyond brain structure – and see what activity is going on inside the brains of taxi drivers while they are doing their job,” said Dr Hugo Spiers from University College London.

Taxi driver's brain

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to obtain “minute by minute” brain images from 20 taxi drivers as they delivered customers to destinations on “virtual jobs”.

The scientists adapted the Playstation2 game “Getaway” to bring the streets of London into the scanner.

After the scan – and without prior warning – the drivers watched a replay of their performance and reported what they had been thinking at each stage.

“We tried to peel out the common thoughts that taxi drivers tend to have as they drive through the city, and then tie them down to a particular time and place,” said Dr Spiers.

The series of scans revealed a complex choreography of brain activity as the taxi drivers responded to different scenarios.

The hippocampus was only active when the taxi drivers initially planned their route, or if they had to completely change their destination during the course of the journey.

The scientists saw activity in a different brain region when the drivers came across an unexpected situation – for example, a blocked-off junction.

Another part of the brain helped taxi drivers to track how close they were to the endpoint of their journey; like a metal detector, its activity increased when they were closer to their goal.

Changes also occurred in brain regions that are important in social behaviour.

Taxi driving is not just about navigation: “Drivers do obsess occasionally about what their customers are thinking,” said Dr Spiers.

Animals use a number of different mechanisms to navigate – the Sun’s polarized light rays, the Earth’s magnetic fields and the position of the stars.

This research provides new information about the specific roles of areas within the brains of expert human navigators.

Alitalia crisis meetings restart

Alitalia crisis meetings restart

Alitalia plane

Time is running out to save Alitalia

Emergency talks to prevent the collapse of Alitalia have restarted in Rome after the airline warned it may have to start canceling flights from Monday.

With the airline saying it is running out of money to buy aviation fuel, the government needs to persuade unions to back a deal that involves job cuts.

The only offer on the table is from Italian consortium CAI, which only wants Alitalia’s profitable operations.

Unions have so far rejected this deal as it would mean major job losses.

Yet with the only alternative now increasingly looking like Alitalia’s total collapse and the loss of all 20,000 jobs, the unions now appear more willing to back down.

‘Cautiously optimistic’

We are trying to get a solution to this saga and there are still many obstacles, but the climate is different and there is the awareness that there is no alternative to the deal,” said Giuseppe Caronia, head of the UILT union.

“I am moderately and cautiously optimistic.”

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to do all he can to save Alitalia.

Securing the airline’s future was one of his main election pledges before he returned to power in May.

Failed French takeover

Back in April, plans for Alitalia to be bought by Air France-KLM collapsed due to union opposition to planned job cuts.

Italy’s civil aviation authority said on Saturday that Alitalia’s operating licence was at risk due to the airline’s admission that it was running out of funds to buy fuel.

Alitalia is currently being run by administrators after seeking bankruptcy protection on 29 August.

The Italian government owns a 49.9% stake in Alitalia, but it cannot simply pump public funds into the airline as there are strict European Union rules preventing state support for airlines.

How to be a good president

How to be a good president

Barack Obama says the most important quality is vision for the future. No, says John McCain, the key requirement is experience – or at least that’s what he said until he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Ronald Reagan

A former film star, Ronald Reagan was an excellent communicator

Both want the most powerful job in the world – but neither they, nor anyone else, can agree on what, precisely, are the qualities needed to serve as president of the United States.

Indeed, there is not even a job description – only an oath of office demanding the president defend the US constitution.

What’s more, the job keeps changing, evolving constantly in the 230 years since the founding of the republic.

Still, an understanding has gradually emerged of the key qualities required of a president.

The trouble is, they are so many and various, it’s almost impossible to imagine any normal human being matching up.

Preacher and protector

Ever since Theodore Roosevelt described the presidency as a “bully pulpit,” Americans have expected first-class rhetorical skills from their leaders.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton

Mr Obama’s camp hopes to capitalise on Bill Clinton’s lasting popularity

A president must be able to inspire, to preach, to stir the American people to greater things.

In the modern era, Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all had a great talent for communication; so too did Bill Clinton, though in a different style.

The presidents who have struggled – both George Bushes and Jimmy Carter come to mind – were those who lacked oratorical gifts.

But the job requires more than that. Americans look to their president as a protector, someone who will keep the country strong and ward off its enemies.

Roosevelt was a great war leader. As the former Allied commander during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower made Americans feel similarly secure.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans still revere Reagan for winning the Cold War.

Minimum mendacity

Foreign policy acumen is a related and essential element in the presidential kit of parts.

Richard Nixon meets John McCain in 1973

Nixon and John McCain could both claim foreign policy expertise

It’s why Mr McCain makes so much of his own experience in international affairs – and why the Obama camp equally emphasizes Sarah Palin’s lack of a foreign policy record.

The first George Bush’s reputation rests on his skillful handling of the post-Cold War world, while his son will have to persuade future historians that he did not make terrible blunders abroad.

Yet skill on the world stage is not enough to guarantee the respect of posterity.

Richard Nixon regarded himself as a geo-strategic sage, thanks to his opening to China, but he is still known by a single word: Watergate.

Domestic scandal trumps international accomplishments. Put that down as another lesson for those keen to learn how to be a good president: you need to be, if not saint-like in your honesty, at least not so mendacious that you get tangled up in your own deceptions.

It helps if you’re someone who can get things done. Lyndon Johnson will forever be saddled with the disaster of the Vietnam war, but he retains respect for passing a canon of social legislation – from civil rights to his war on poverty – that genuinely improved millions of lives.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter was seen as a decent but aloof president

That was largely down to his mastery of the often arcane ways of the senate, which he had once dominated as majority leader.

That hard-headed, practical ability to get results is often underestimated.

In the words of British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Johnson “pushed through so much legislation which has changed the way we think about equality, equal rights and human dignity, and I think that is a huge accolade”.

Star quality

It’s good if you’re a palpably decent man, as Jimmy Carter was – but less good if that makes you seem lofty, prissy or aloof, as Carter often seemed.

It’s good if you can keep the country at peace and the economy in rosy health – as Bill Clinton did – but less good if you let that get overshadowed by personal indiscipline, as he did.

Finally, in the modern era, the president needs a compelling personal story, great charisma and as much screen presence as a movie star.

As I discovered making “President Hollywood”, the demands of Washington DC and Tinsel Town are remarkably similar.

Which man matches up to this impossible checklist, Barack Obama or John McCain? Well, the American people will decide that on 4 November.

But they had better get used to one thing right away: the president with every one of these essential qualities simply does not exist.

September 12, 2008

Thai party ‘drops Samak for PM’

Thai party ‘drops Samak for PM’

Ousted Thai PM Samak Sundaravej leaves Parliament House in Bangkok on 11September 2008

Protesters have consistently demanded that Mr Samak leave office

Thailand’s ruling party has dropped ousted PM Samak Sundaravej as its nominee for the job, say party sources.

The decision marks an apparent U-turn by the People’s Power Party (PPP), which earlier seemed determined to re-nominate him to the post.

Protesters have been demanding for weeks that Mr Samak should resign.

The apparent confirmation that he is no longer in contention for the post may pave the way for a settlement of the political crisis, analysts say.

Mr Samak had vowed not to bow to the protesters’ demands, but was eventually forced out earlier this week, over an apparently unrelated appearance in a TV cookery show.

The protesters call him a puppet for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an army coup in 2006 amid accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

New candidates

Reports are confused as to whether the pressure to drop Mr Samak came from within the ruling party or from its five coalition partners.

The Associated Press news agency quoted PPP spokesman Kuthep Kuthep Saikrajang as saying the party had short-listed three party members as its prime ministerial nominee, though they were not named.

Video still of Samak Sundaravej

Mr Samak was a TV chef before becoming prime minister

The party will need to agree on a compromise candidate before Wednesday, when parliament has scheduled a new vote for prime minister.

Earlier on Friday, a planned vote in the Thai parliament to re-elect Mr Samak as prime minister was postponed because too few MPs turned up.

Thousands of protesters who have been holding a sit-in outside Government House calling for Mr Samak’s resignation were enraged by his re-nomination.

Protesters pledged to continue their protest until a suitable replacement for Mr Samak was found – a scenario which may now have materialized, say correspondents.

Although the PPP is the largest party in parliament, it does not have an outright majority and four of its five coalition partners had already said they wanted an alternative candidate.

On top of that, Mr Samak also faces disqualification again later this month if the verdict in a defamation case goes against him.

September 10, 2008

Laureate bemoans ‘thankless’ job

Laureate bemoans ‘thankless’ job

Andrew Motion

Motion writes verse for significant Royal occasions

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that the job of writing verse for the Royal Family is “thankless” and gave him a case of writer’s block.

Motion told the Ealing Arts Festival in London that the Queen “never gives me an opinion on my work for her”.

“I won’t be including any of that work in my future collections,” he said, adding he “did what I had to do”.

Motion has had the job of writing verse on Royal occasions since 1999, and will hold the post until next year.

‘Hiding to nothing’

His assignments have included composing a poem to mark the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s diamond wedding anniversary and a modern verse for Prince William’s 21st birthday.

The 55-year-old said the job has been “very, very damaging to my work”.

Afterwards the Queen stopped me and said ‘thank you’, but I have no idea if she really liked it
Andrew Motion

“I dried up completely about five years ago and can’t write anything except to commission.”

But he added: “I thought all the poetry had gone, but I feel some of it is still there and may yet return.”

Speaking about the occasion of the Queen’s 60th wedding anniversary when his poem was read by Dame Judi Dench in Westminster Abbey, Motion said: “Afterwards the Queen stopped me and said ‘thank you’, but I have no idea if she really liked it.”

“Writing for the Royals was a hiding to nothing,” he added.

Motion initially said his appointment would give him a platform to promote poetry.

He succeeded the late Ted Hughes to the position, which was introduced in 1668. Previous appointees stayed in the role until their death.

August 28, 2008

Putin blames US for Georgia role

Putin blames US for Georgia role

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Mr Putin said US citizens were in the area during the conflict

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the US of provoking the conflict in Georgia, possibly for domestic election purposes.

Mr Putin told CNN US citizens were “in the area” during the conflict over South Ossetia and were “taking direct orders from their leaders”.

He said his defense officials had told him the provocation was to benefit one of the US presidential candidates.

The White House dismissed the allegations as “not rational”.

Georgia tried to retake the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia this month by force after a series of clashes.

Russian forces subsequently launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, and an EU-brokered ceasefire.

Diplomatic wrangling

Mr Putin said in the interview: “The fact is that US citizens were indeed in the area in conflict during the hostilities.

“It should be admitted that they would do so only following direct orders from their leaders.”

Those claims first and foremost are patently false, but it also sounds like his defence officials who said they believed this to be true are giving him really bad advice
Dana Perino,
White House spokeswoman

Mr Putin added: “The American side in effect armed and trained the Georgian army.

“Why… seek a difficult compromise solution in the peacekeeping process? It is easier to arm one of the sides and provoke it into killing another side. And the job is done.

“The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino rejected the allegation.

“To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate – it sounds not rational,” she said.

“Those claims first and foremost are patently false, but it also sounds like his defense officials who said they believed this to be true are giving him really bad advice.”

SOUTH OSSETIA & ABKHAZIA
BBC map
South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000 (before recent conflict)
Capital: Tskhinvali
President: Eduard Kokoity
Abkhazia
Population: About 250,000 (2003)
Capital: Sukhumi
President: Sergei Bagapsh

Diplomatic wrangling over Russia’s actions in Georgia continued on Thursday with the Georgian parliament urging its government to cut diplomatic ties with Moscow.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested some EU countries were considering sanctions against Russia.

Mr Kouchner insisted France had made no proposals for sanctions itself but, as current president of the EU, would aim to get consensus among all 27 countries of the bloc if sanctions were envisaged.

France has called an emergency EU summit on Monday to reassess relations with Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described talk of sanctions as the working of “a sick imagination”.

Such talk was an emotional response that demonstrated Western confusion over the situation, he said.

The US has said it is now considering scrapping a US-Russia civilian nuclear co-operation pact in response to the conflict.

“I don’t think there’s anything to announce yet, but I know that that is under discussion,” Mr Perino said.

The White House has also announced that up to $5.75m (£3.1m) will be freed to help Georgia meet “unexpected and urgent refugee and migration needs”.

Rocket test

Earlier on Thursday Russia failed to get strong backing from its Asian allies over the Georgia conflict.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), comprising Russia, China and Central Asian nations, met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and spoke of its deep concern.

The group did not follow Russia in recognising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev insisted he had the backing of the nations over Moscow’s actions.

Amid the rising tension, Russia announced on Thursday it had successfully tested its long-range Topol ballistic missile from a launch site in Kamchatka in the far east of the country.

Russia says the rocket is capable of penetrating the proposed US missile defence.

August 22, 2008

Zardari nominated to be president

Zardari nominated to be president

Pakistan People’s Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari (L) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (C) and ex-PM Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Tuesday 19 August 2008

The coalition must decide who will be Pakistan’s new president

Pakistan’s biggest party, the PPP, has nominated its leader, Asif Zardari, to be the country’s president.

Pervez Musharraf resigned from the post on Monday in the face of the threat of impeachment by his political enemies.

Mr Zardari’s main coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N, is not in favor of Mr Zardari getting the job.

The two men are also deadlocked over how many of the judges sacked by Mr  Musharraf during emergency rule last November should be reinstated.

Twenty-four hours

PPP spokeswoman Sherry Rehman told reporters in Islamabad that senior PPP members had come to a unanimous decision to nominate Mr Zardari.

“Mr Zardari thanked the Pakistan People’s Party of which he is the co-chairman and said he will announce his decision within the next 24 hours,” she said.

The PPP and the PML-N have been discussing ways to reduce the power of the presidency. But if Mr Zardari gets the job, it is not clear if such reforms will go ahead.

He took over as PPP leader after his wife, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December.

The president is chosen by the two chambers of the national parliament and the country’s four provincial elections. The election will be held on 6 September.

Mr Sharif prefers what he calls a consensus president.

Wednesday deadline

Earlier on Friday Mr Sharif agreed to let parliament hold a debate next week on how to reinstate the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf.

He had threatened to pull out of the coalition government unless it was agreed on Friday that all the sacked judges be restored.

The PPP fears that if former Supreme Court judges, including ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, are reinstated, they could overturn a controversial amnesty that Mr Musharraf granted Mr Zardari Ms Bhutto last year that paved the way for them to return to the country.

That would open up Mr Zardari to prosecution on long-standing corruption charges.

Mr Sharif pulled back from his threat to withdraw his PML-N party from the governing coalition after talks with other coalition parties in Islamabad.

But Mr Sharif is still hoping the resolution will result in Mr Chaudhry and the other judges getting their jobs back.

“Wednesday should be the day for reinstatement of judges,” he told journalists.

Squabbling

The coalition was elected in February but analysts say it has failed to find solutions to Pakistan’s economic crisis and to the militants in its north-western tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani security officials examine the site of the suicide bombing in Wah

The politicians’ squabbling is hindering any possible plan for tackling militant violence.

The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s suicide bombings on an ordnance factory in the town of Wah, near the capital Islamabad. It was the deadliest attack on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The militant group promised more attacks in Pakistan’s major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.

On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in a suicide attack on a hospital in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

On Friday the Taleban said at least 16 of their fighters were killed in clashes with security forces in the north-western district of Hangu.

In the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border, reports said at least one person was killed and eight others were injured when army helicopters fired at a convoy. Locals said the vehicles were carrying civilians who were fleeing the fighting in the area.

Mr Musharraf, a key ally of President George Bush’s “war on terror”, stepped down this week after nine years in power to avoid being impeached.

He sacked about 60 Supreme Court judges during a state of emergency in November to prevent them from overturning his re-election as president.

Analysts say that although the PPP and PML-N worked together to hound Mr Musharraf from office, there is a history of intense rivalry and mistrust between the two main parties.

The parties differ over the future of Mr Musharraf, who has been replaced by a caretaker president, the speaker of the Senate.

Mr Zardari’s party has said it believes Mr Musharraf may have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif’s party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.