Nation Special


Turkish PM defends Gaza outburst

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stood firm Friday on his outburst at a heated debate with Israel’s president, as the Jewish state sought to calm tempers saying bilateral ties would recover.

Erdogan received a hero’s welcome on his return to Istanbul and the Palestinian Hamas movement hailed his “courageous stand” after storming out of the debate on the Gaza war at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We will never allow anyone to show disrespect to the prime minister of Turkey,” Erdogan told a cheering crowd as he returned home following his clash with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

He slammed the hundreds of civilian deaths in Hamas-ruled Gaza during Israel’s recent 22-day offensive, but said his anger was directed not at the Jewish people, rather “the practices of the Israeli government.

“The death of civilians cannot be seen as a simple work accident,” Erdogan said.
In Ankara, Israeli ambassador Gaby Levy sought to defuse tensions, saying he is confident relations between the two “closest and... friendliest countries” will recover “within a period of time.”

Turkey and Israel have overcome other spats in the past because their ties “are solidly based... on strategic interests,” Levy told reporters.
“It is in the interest of both countries to start trying to calm down and move forward,” he said.

The influential Turkish army, which has a series of cooperation accords with the Israeli military, stressed “national interests” in signalling that close relations would continue.

Erdogan said Turkey is determined to pursue peace efforts in the Middle East, while officials announced that Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will visit Ankara next week to discuss “all aspects of the Palestinian problem, including efforts to secure unity among Palestinian groups.”

Before he marched off the stage in front of Peres and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Erdogan said Israel committed “barbarian” acts in Gaza, lashed out at the audience for applauding Peres’ emotional defence of the war and vowed he would never return to Davos.

Erdogan’s gesture made headlines across Europe and the Middle East, although a spokesman said his move was directed not at Peres but at the moderator of the debate, who interrupted his speech.

Turkey is one of Israel’s rare allies in the Muslim world but Erdogan has been a fierce critic of the Jewish state’s military onslaught on Gaza that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.

Peres, a Nobel peace prize winner, defended the offensive, saying Israel had no other choice to stop Hamas rocket attacks -- adding, with his finger pointing, that Erdogan would have done the same if rockets fell on Istanbul every night.

“Hamas pays tribute to the courageous stand of Turkey’s prime minister... who in Davos directly defended the victims of the criminal Zionist war against our children and women in Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Friday.

“We consider his departure from the room an expression of support for the victims of the Holocaust carried out by the Zionists,” he said in a statement.
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya also showered Erdogan with praise and compared him to Sultan Mehmed II who conquered Constantinople in 1453, bringing an end to the Byzantine Empire.

“From Gaza the victorious, we stand at your side and alongside Turkey,” he said. “You remind us of the glorious position of our Ottoman ancestors,” Hayya told a rally in Gaza City, during his first public appearance since the end of Israel’s offensive on Gaza.

“Yesterday, you rose up in the esteem of all free (persons) in this world,” wrote Lebanon’s parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri in a letter to Erdogan, cited by the country’s official news agency ANI.

Despite the hero’s welcome from his supporters, the Turkish opposition and foreign policy experts harshly criticised Erdogan’s outburst.

“Mr Erdogan has ruined Turkey’s international prestige. Supporting the Palestinian cause is one thing, but supporting Hamas is something else,” said Onur Oymen, deputy chairman of the main opposition CHP party.
“Mr Erdogan acted like a spokesman for an organisation that is classified as terrorist,” he said.


Hamas hails Erdogan for spat with Israel

GAZA CITY (AFP) - The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Friday hailed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his spat with Israel over its assault on the Gaza Strip.

“Hamas pays tribute to the courageous stand of Turkey’s prime minister ... who in Davos directly defended the victims of the criminal Zionist war against our children and women in Gaza,” said spokesman Fawzi Barhum.

“We consider his departure from the room an expression of support for the victims of the Holocaust carried out by the Zionists,” he said in a statement.
Erdogan stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday during a spat over the Gaza war, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, a third of them children.

He marched off complaining his comments on Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza were cut short and criticised the audience for applauding Israeli President Shimon Peres’s emotional defence of Senior the conflict against Hamas.


Republicans choose first African-American party leader

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Republicans elected their party’s first-ever African-American leader Friday, throwing down the gauntlet to rival Democrats after bitter losses in November when Barack Obama became the first black to win the White House.

After being voted in as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), rising political star Michael Steele vowed to revitalize conservatives in a party he and others acknowledge needs a makeover in order to regain some of its lost political stature.

“To Americans who believe in the future of this country, to those who stand in difference with us, it’s time for something completely different. And we’re going to bring it to them,” Steele said after six ballots to choose the new RNC chairman.
“This is our opportunity,” Steele, 50, added. “I cannot do this by myself.”

On a day of high political drama, the former lieutenant governor of the state of Maryland and candidate for US Senate in 2006 defeated several powerful GOP insiders, including South Carolina party chairman Katon Dawson in the final ballot.
Steele won by a vote of 91 to 77, with 85 votes needed to win.

He is tasked with rejuventating -- and diversifying -- a party that is overwhelmingly white, and which was left licking its wounds after losing the presidency in November and seeing Democrats solidify their grip on both houses of Congress.

Steele’s victory puts minority African-Americans at the pinnacle of the country’s two major parties, capping a remarkable year of ascendancy for blacks in US politics, after Obama became the nation’s first black president.

His win is all the more startling given the toxic atmosphere throughout stretches of the presidential campaign last year, when Republicans were accused of not-so-subtly injecting race into the campaign.

But with the drubbing they received in November, Republican leaders have acknowledged that their party suffers from an image problem.
“My concern is unless we do something to adapt, our status as a minority party may become too pronounced for an easy recovery,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

In his brief acceptance speech Steele acknowledged the historic nature of the vote -- and the need to take the party in a new direction.

“We’re going to bring this party to every corner, every board room, every neighborhood, every community. And we’re going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us.

“And for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over.”
In a statement released after the vote, the RNC said Steele was a “self-described Lincoln Republican,” referring to Civil War-era president Abraham Lincoln whom Obama counts as his own political hero. Steele’s counterpart Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee chairman, congratulated Steele and hoped he could work with him to “put partisanship and the politics of the past aside to get our economy working again.

“The American people have sent a clear message that the challenges we face are too great for us to get bogged down by outmoded ideological divides,” Kaine said in a statement.

The final RNC vote pitted Steele against Dawson, a white Southerner who was pressured to resign last year from a whites-only country club.

And another candidate for the Republican chairmanship, Chip Saltsman, triggered another bout of soul-searching for the party last month when he sent out CDs of a song about Obama titled “Barack the Magic Negro.”


Obama supports Israeli ‘genocide’ says Castro

AFP Havana - Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro unleashed his first condemnation Thursday of US President Barack Obama, accusing him of following previous US administrations by supporting Israel’s “genocide” of the Palestinians.

Castro attacked Obama for allegedly continuing the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush in giving unwavering support to Israel, and hence “sharing the genocide against the Palestinians.”

The former Cuban president highlighted statements made by the Obama administration that reiterated its strong support for the Jewish state, which recently fought a 22-day war against the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.
In a foreign policy mission statement on its website, the US administration said its “incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

According to the statement, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “support this closeness, stating that the United States would never distance itself from Israel.”
Castro, who gave up power to his brother Raul in July 2006 for health reasons, said the United States had enabled Israel to become an “important nuclear power,” and kept on strengthening the military forces with which Israel “threatens extreme violence against the population of all Muslim countries.”

In the article, published online on the website cubadebate.cu, the former Cuban president also criticized Obama for suggesting Havana would have to make concessions before Washington considers returning the territory of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

The territory was leased to the United States indefinitely in 1903 after the US occupation of Cuba during the 1898 Spanish-American war. Havana has previously, but unsuccessfully challenged the lease.
Obama is “demanding a change” in communist Cuba’s political regime, Castro wrote, adding that this was “a price Cuba has fought against paying for the last half century.”

Maintaining the controversial military base -- which continues to house “war on terror” suspects -- on Cuban soil is “against the will of our people, violating the most fundamental principles of international law,” said Castro.

His comments were in sharp contrast to the warm words the 82-year-old Cuban revolutionary leader reportedly voiced last week for the newly-inaugurated Obama.
“He told me that (Obama) not only had a very good background as a political leader, but also that he was a man he saw as being absolutely sincere,” Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said after meeting with Castro.

Cuba’s government condemned Israel at the beginning of its 22-day assault on Gaza earlier this month, which left more than 1,300 dead and caused widespread destruction in the tiny Palestinian enclave.

Israel was committing a “genocidal act” against the Palestinian civilian population, a government statement charged in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.


Iraqis vote in landmark elections

Iraqis are electing new provincial councils in the first nationwide vote in four years, with the Sunni minority expected to turn out in strength.
Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot, a general election which resulted in Shia and Kurdish parties taking control of parliament.

Gunmen killed three candidates in recent days and security is tight.
The vote is seen as a test of Iraq’s stability ahead of the next general election later this year.

Up to 15 million Iraqis are eligible to cast a vote.
All three of the candidates killed were Sunnis. They were attacked in Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala Province.

While the recent level of violence around Iraq is significantly lower than in past years, Iraq’s international borders have been shut, traffic bans are in place across Baghdad and major cities, and curfews have been introduced.

Hundreds of women, including teachers and civic workers, have also been recruited to help search women voters after a rise in female suicide bombers last year, according to the Associated Press.
Iraqi and US military commanders have in recent days warned that al-Qaeda poses a threat to the elections.

Setting the stage

The International Crisis Group, which studies conflicts around the world, has emphasised the importance of the poll.
In a report it said: “Whereas the January 2005 elections helped put Iraq on the path to all-out civil war, these polls could represent another, far more peaceful turning point.”

Despite intimidation, many Sunni voters who boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005 say they will vote this time.
Some, like Khaled al-Azemi, said the boycott last time had been a mistake.
“We lost a lot because we didn’t vote and we saw the result - sectarian violence” he told the BBC.

“That’s why we want to vote now to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
The drawing of alienated Sunnis back into the political arena is one of the big changes these elections will crystallise, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Baghdad.


Asia migrants flock to Australia

Australia’s Asian population is soaring as immigrants from across the region - particularly China and India - enter the country, official data suggests.
Asia is fast becoming a rival to Europe as the dominant source of arrivals, analysis of the latest census showed.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said almost one-fifth of the new arrivals in Australia between 1996 and 2006 came from China and India.

The data also showed that 4.4 million people in Australia were born overseas.
This represented a 2% increase from the time of the last census in 1996.
Until 1973 the former British colony had a “White Australia” policy, restricting immigration to Westerners.

While migration from Europe has continued, the ABS report, entitled Portrait of a Nation, said the overseas-born population had “featured a major increase in Asian immigration”.

The United Kingdom was still the most common country of origin, with 24% of foreign-born residents (92,000) arriving from there between 1996 and 2006, census data suggested.

However, six of the 10 most common birthplaces were now Asian countries with China accounting for 9.5% (62,000) of new arrivals and India with 8.4% (54,100).

Other Asian countries where migrants were coming from included Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea.
The report said that the Asian population has now eclipsed that of indigenous Australians. BBC



Eurozone jobless at two-year high

Unemployment across the nations that share the euro rose to its highest level in more than two years last month, as more firms laid off staff.

The eurozone unemployment rate totalled 8% in December, according to the latest official European Union data, up from a revised 7.9% in November.

Unemployment was highest in Spain, which recorded a 14.4% figure.

Meanwhile, eurozone inflation fell in January to 1.1%, its lowest level in almost 10 years, from 1.6% in December.

While Spain saw the highest unemployment last month, the lowest was Netherlands on 2.7%, and Austria at 3.9%.


Honda’s four-month break begins

Honda has closed its UK plant in Swindon for four months.

This affects just over 2,500 of its 3,700 employees, who will receive their full basic pay for the first two months, but around 60% thereafter.

The shutdown is thought to be one of the longest in Britain’s recent industrial history.
The move is in response to the downturn in the UK car market. On Friday, the Japanese car company said global third quarter net profit had dropped 89%.

Production staff, who install and upgrade machinery rather than make cars, will continue to work at Swindon during the shutdown.

Honda has said there are no plans for redundancies and that it intends to “safeguard employment” for workers who want to stay at the company.

Dave Hodgetts, senior director at the South Marston plant, said the company was not giving any guarantees but was “giving [its] best intentions”.

“We will be trying to protect their jobs - that’s our priority for the whole period,” he said.


Porsche scales back worker hours

Porsche has become the latest car manufacturer to cut back worker hours amid falling global demand.
Porsche’s preliminary results for the six months to the end of January revealed sales had slumped 14% to 3bn euros ($3.9bn; £2.7bn).

The number of cars sold fell 27% to 34,000 in the six-month period. No profit figures were released.
Porsche said it would reduce hours as a result, but the company remained upbeat about its prospects.

Falling demand

In total, the German luxury car maker will cut production by about 19 days between now and April.

Porsche had already cut eight days production in January at its main site in Zuffenhausen.

These cuts follow a drop in sales. In the US, Porsche’s biggest market, the company sold 11,850 cars in the six months to the end of January, a 27% drop from the same period a year earlier.

In Germany, total sales declined 26% to 4,150 vehicles in that period.


Small companies ‘shedding staff’

Small and medium-sized manufacturing companies are shedding staff at the fastest rate since the early 1990s, according to new research from the CBI.

Employment, new orders and output all fell sharply in the final three months of 2008 as demand for goods from UK firms fell as the recession took hold.

Thirty-eight per cent of UK firms surveyed cut jobs during the quarter.
According to the CBI, small and medium UK companies are expecting the first quarter of 2009 to be even tougher.

“The jobs picture among smaller manufacturers has deteriorated markedly since last July in the face of rapidly declining demand for UK-made goods at home and abroad,” said Russel Griggs, chairman of the CBI’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Council.

“Firms are steeling themselves for a very difficult few months with output and orders expected to fall at a record pace in the next quarter. BBC