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G20 leaders endorse sweeping reform of IMF

SEOUL (AFP) - G20 leaders gave their backing this week to sweeping reforms designed to give emerging economies such as China a bigger say in the International Monetary Fund.
The leaders of advanced and emerging economies announced they were delivering “a modernised IMF that better reflects the changes in the world economy through greater representation of dynamic emerging markets and developing countries”.
The reforms would enhance its “legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness, making it an even stronger institution for promoting global financial stability and growth”, the G20 leaders said in a summit declaration in Seoul.
The IMF’s executive board had agreed to the changes -- described as “historic” by managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn -- at its own meeting last week.
They create “the biggest-ever shift of influence in favour of emerging market and developing countries”, Strauss-Kahn said then.
The fund has long been dominated by Western powers but has faced growing calls to adapt.
The deal to reform its 24-member board of governors was thrashed out by G20 ministers last month ahead of this week’s summit.
Europe has agreed to give up two seats. Just over five percent of voting rights will be transferred, and Brazil, Russia, India and China will all be among the top 10 IMF shareholders.
China will become the third-largest shareholder, with a nearly 6.4 percent quota -- up from three percent, which had put the country in sixth place.
The total size of the quotas -- the contributions of the 187 member states to the Fund’s capital -- will be doubled, to 756 billion dollars.
G20 leaders, as part of efforts to rebalance the world economy, also tasked the IMF with advising on proposed “indicative guidelines” to help identify large current account imbalances that require corrective action.
“We will not have any way to force countries to implement our guidelines,” Strauss-Kahn told reporters Friday in Seoul.
“We have no police, no army. The strength of the IMF relies on the strength of the truth. The IMF is not going to be the dictator of the world economy.”
Upon his arrival at the IMF in 2007, Strauss-Kahn made quota redistribution a top priority, to resolve a long and bitter battle by emerging-market and developing countries to wrest greater power.
When a previous quota reform plan was officially adopted by member states in April 2008, he hailed it as “the beginning of the new legitimacy of the Fund.”
But that reform has not been enacted due to the lack of a sufficient number of ratifications by member states.

Mecca heaving with pilgrims

MECCA (AFP) - Pilgrims dressed in white robes descended in their hundreds of thousands on Mecca for weekly prayers on Friday, ahead of the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
All streets leading to the grand mosque were crammed with praying pilgrims, with lines stretching back about a kilometre.
Plazas and corridors of surrounding malls were also crowded with devotees spreading their prayer mats, as were grocery stores which stopped selling for the prayers.
Some 2.5 million people are expected in Mecca by the start today of the hajj, which is being held amid tight security and with new facilities, including a railway, to ease the sometimes fatal congestion.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has said he cannot rule out an Al Qaeda attempt to disrupt the five-day ritual, although the group has not attacked pilgrims in the past.
While most of those who crowded the streets of Mecca on Friday had donned white ihram garments for the pilgrimage, some were still dressed in their countries’ traditional clothes, reflecting the number of nationalities and ethnicities represented in the annual season.

Obama makes free trade push at start of APEC summit
YOKOHAMA (AFP) - US President Barack Obama made a push for free trade in the Asia-Pacific yesterday at the start of a regional summit that threatens to be overshadowed by tensions between its biggest economies.
Pitching a free-trade pact that would group countries on both sides of the Pacific, Obama said that “the security and prosperity of the American people is inextricably linked to the security and prosperity of Asia”.
The US president said that seven of America’s 15 top trading partners were now members of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum, whose 21 member economies are meeting in the Japanese port city of Yokohama near Tokyo.
With an eye to his domestic audience, which this month delivered him a mid-term electoral drubbing, Obama added that “with every one billion dollars we sell in exports, 5,000 jobs are supported at home.”
While a key aim of APEC is to liberalise the free flow of goods, sharp divisions over trade have created tensions that surfaced at an earlier G20 summit in South Korea, especially between the US and China.
Both economies accuse each other of artificially driving down their currencies in order to make their goods more competitive abroad, and China has rejected a US proposal to take steps to reduce its huge trade surplus.
Stressing the point again, Obama said that “countries with large surpluses must shift away from an unhealthy dependence on exports and take steps to boost domestic demand.
“No nation should assume that their path to prosperity is simply paved with exports to America.”
He said that the US, which hosts next year’s APEC summit in Hawaii, wants to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free trade zone that now includes Brunei, Singapore, Chile and New Zealand.
The US, Australia and three other countries are now in talks to join the grouping, which would eliminate most tariffs and other trade barriers and is seen as a vehicle towards a much wider Pacific Rim treaty.
New great mates?
YOKOHAMA (AFP) - President Barack Obama yesterday lauded Australia as a key player in the Asian economy as he held his first talks with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and invited her to Washington next year.
Gillard meanwhile said Australia and the US were “great mates” and offered condolences for US losses in Afghanistan, where Australian troops are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces.
Obama also praised the “enormous sacrifices” being made in Afghanistan by Australian troops and said he would discuss war strategy in more depth with Gillard at next week’s NATO summit in Lisbon.
“The United States does not have a closer or a better ally than Australia,” Obama said as he met Gillard in the Japanese port city of Yokohama ahead of a Pacific Rim summit. As he wrapped up an eight-day stay in Asia designed to pry open markets and promote US job creation, Obama said the region was “highly important to our economy and to world economic growth. Australia is a central player in that economy”.
“I am just grateful that I had this opportunity to speak to the prime minister, I have extended an invitation to her to visit the US sometime early next year and we will find a date.”
Gillard said she and Obama had talked briefly at the G20 summit in Seoul which ended Friday and would go into depth further in Lisbon.
Fish stocks dwindle as trawlers empty seas

PENANG (AFP) - Overfishing in Southeast Asian seas has left garoupas and sea bass in dire straits, searching for mates on denuded seabeds, according to experts alarmed by ever-declining catches.
Marine scientists and fishermen say that popular fish species -- especially the large and valuable ones -- have been caught indiscriminately, causing numbers to plunge dramatically.
For big fish “finding a mate is a difficult task. They have to swim a long distance to find one,” said Edward Allison from the World Fish Centre in Malaysia’s northern resort island of Penang.
One of the culprits is bottom trawling, which involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to the nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path.
Allison said the habitat for young fish, or fry, is also shrinking because the mangrove swamps which provide food and protection are being obliterated by coastal development including tourist resorts.
Demand for top-quality seafood, from Southeast Asian nations themselves and from Hong Kong and China, is another major factor behind the emptying of the seas.
According to World Fish data, there were 10 times more fish in the Gulf of Thailand in 1965 than 30 years later.
In Malaysia the decline was between 80 and 90 percent while in the Philippines it is estimated that there was a 46-78 percent dropoff in fish stocks.
There is little data from other countries without the resources to carry out the studies, but World Fish believes the rate of decline in those three countries is reflected across Southeast Asia. In Tanjung Karang, a fishing village in central Malaysia on the banks of the murky Tengi river which flows into the Malacca Strait, coastal fishermen are gloomy as they come ashore to sell their daily catch.

Suu Kyi supporters pray for her freedom

YANGON (AFP) - Supporters of Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gathered yesterday in anticipation of her expected release from the lakeside home that has been her prison for most of the past two decades.
Dozens waited anxiously outside her party’s headquarters and her crumbling mansion, a day after hundreds had massed in the hope of a glimpse of the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Many wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Although Myanmar’s most famous dissident has been in detention for the past seven years, sidelined and silenced by the ruling generals, for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.
“We are praying for her release. We are very excited,” said Cho Cho, a 35-year-old housewife in Yangon.
Suu Kyi, still seen as the biggest threat to the junta after almost five decades of military dictatorship, has been locked up for 15 of the past 21 years, but her most recent sentence is close to an end.
The authorities have said her release is imminent, even though some fear the generals may find an excuse to extend it.
“She will be released today,” a Myanmar government official said yesterday.

Taliban attack Jalalabad airport

JALALABAD (AFP) - Taliban militants attacked Jalalabad airport and a military base for foreign forces in eastern Afghanistan yesterday but the strike was thwarted, officials said.
The government in Nangarhar province and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said that a wave of fighters attacked a security post at the airport before dawn and at least six insurgents were killed.
“Six attackers have been killed -- two of them died blowing themselves up and four others were killed by security forces,” said government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzoi.
ISAF said in a statement that its troops and Afghan National Army soldiers killed eight militants but only one was wearing a suicide bomb vest.
“The forward operating base received small arms fire from an unknown number of insurgents and after gaining positive identification of insurgent fighting positions an ANA and ISAF quick reaction force was sent to the area,” it added.
“Initial reports indicate no ANA or ISAF servicemembers were killed.”
The Taliban, which regularly exaggerates details of its attacks, said that 14 suicide bombers were involved.

Maliki faces dispute over power-sharing deal
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq’s newly reappointed premier Nuri Al Maliki faced the task of repairing a power-sharing pact yesterday after claims the deal had already been broken.
Reappointed on Thursday, Maliki now has 30 days to form his cabinet, with the next parliamentary session scheduled for yesterday.
But a dramatic walk-out by some 60 MPs from the Sunni-backed bloc of former premier Iyad Allawi underscored the fragility of the deal just as it was getting inked.
International leaders however continued to laud the agreement, a bid to end an eight-month post-election deadlock.
As part of the accord, brokered during three days of intense talks, President Jalal Talabani, re-elected by MPs, named Maliki as prime minister.
But the move was overshadowed by a dispute that prompted angry members of the Iraqiya bloc to storm out of the Council of Representatives chamber.
For many, the support of Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the March 7 poll and garnered most of its seats in Sunni areas, is vital to preventing a resurgence of violence.
The Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein’s regime was the bedrock of the anti-US insurgency after the 2003 invasion.
“Last night, it was clear, there are a lot of disagreements,” independent Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Othman told AFP on Friday.
“Last night showed that the agreement is shaky,” he added.
People ‘daydream half the time’

LONDON: People spend nearly half of their waking hours not thinking about what they are actually doing, according to a US study conducted via the iPhone.
More than 2,200 volunteers downloaded an app which then surveyed them about their thoughts and mood at random times of day and night.
The Science study suggested minds wander, even from demanding tasks, at least 30% of the time.
A UK expert said other studies confirmed people are easily distracted.
The iPhone was a novel research tool for researchers at Harvard University.
Participants agreed to be contacted, at which point they selected what they were doing from a menu, whether they were actually thinking about it, and how happy or sad they felt.
Remarkably, some participants were prepared to answer the survey even when making love.
While their study sample was composed entirely of people who owned the device, and were prepared to download and be disturbed by an app of this kind, the researchers said it provides an insight into how our minds can wander during the day.
After gathering 250,000 survey results, the Harvard team concluded that this group of people spent 46.9% of their time awake with their minds wandering.
Dr Matthew Killingsworth, one of the researchers, said: “Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities. -BBC

Mobile technology can help improve global health: Gates

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Mobile technology can help improve global health with cheap diagnostic tools, patient reminders and making immunisation programs more efficient, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said.
“The mobile phone is pretty interesting for lots of things,” Gates said in a keynote address at the mHealth Summit, a gathering of public and private sector groups and companies involved in mobile technology and health.
“There’s a whole lot of opportunities,” said Gates, who stepped down from day-to-day duties at Microsoft two years ago to concentrate on global health care through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“I think we have to approach these things with some humility though,” Gates cautioned, pointing out that “there’s no Internet and data connections” in much of the world.
“I do think there’s absolutely a role (for mobile technology to impact global health) but I think we have to hold ourselves to some pretty tough metrics to see if it’s really making a difference or not.”
Gates said the cellphone can allow health care professionals to “actually be there with a patient, to be there in a clinic which might not be staffed with wholly trained doctors.”

Bollywood magic

Bollywood actress Hazel Croney attends a press conference for the upcoming Hindi film on homosexual relationships ‘Dunno Y...Na Jaane Kyun’ directored by Sanjay Sharma in Mumbai - AFP


China, Pakistan vow to boost strategic ties
GUANGZHOU: President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed to further strengthen the deep-rooted and multifaceted Sino-Pak ties and strategic relationship through increased cooperation in diverse fields.
The two leaders, who met on the sidelines of the 16th Asian Games being hosted by China, had a delegation-level and later a one-on-one meeting, and exchanged views on various issues of mutual interest, including bilateral relations, regional situation and matters of international importance.
Wen said he would visit Pakistan in December to “deepen strategic co-operation” and proposed the establishment of a mechanism for formal and structured dialogue at ministerial level. Zardari welcomed him and said the government and the people of Pakistan looked forward to his visit.
The two leaders agreed on various issues of regional and international importance, with particular reference to peace and stability of the region.
Wen noted the role Pakistan was playing in countering terrorists and said with increased cooperation, the two countries would be in a better position to counter terrorism.
Both the leaders also expressed their firm resolve to further strengthen ties in economic, defence and
energy sectors.
President Zardari said two-way trade between the two countries had risen to around $7 billion, up from the $2 bn in 2002, but was still far below the trade potential of the two countries. Briefing reporters, the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Zardari called for a currency swap agreement with China and taking full advantage of the free trade agreement to take bilateral trade to $15 billion soon.
Zardari also stressed on the need to enhance connectivity by developing pipelines, rail links and fibre optic link. - APP
A neighbourhood marriage of much more than convenience

If the mass media are a mirror of society would it be correct to observe that Sri Lankan society has paradoxically become more insular as the world, and human existence itself, have become more globalised?
I pose the question not only because I did not notice a single Colombo newspaper carry a front page photograph of the important Obama visit to India, but also because I grew up with a father who as editor of the Daily News, introduced syndicated columnists of the New York Times, including the iconic James Reston, into the paper’s pages and wrote considered editorials on Nixon’s visit to China.
Obama’s passage to India may or may not prove quite as historic as that visit in 1972, but it is of enormous significance.
The explicit articulation of a strategic partnership between the US and India, its definition as a partnership of equals, the regional and global aims of that alliance, Obama’s open support for India’s Security Council aspirations and the reciprocity that would doubtless ensue in multilateral forums and India’s superb demonstration of ‘soft power’ will all have their impact in the years and possibly decades to come.
What is most interesting about the Obama – India interaction and the new levels it has taken the equation to, is precisely the combination of hard power and soft power: the convergence of strategic interests and congruency of values.
Both powers, and more crucially, both societies and peoples, see themselves as secular, federal, pluralist democracies.
Since the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005, and certainly President Bush’s visit of the next year, commentators have speculated about an Indo-US alliance, but Sri Lankan readers had been alerted to the prospect from at least one year prior to the nuclear deal, as far back as 2004, and their attention redrawn to it in the years that followed. In two articles in 2004, I wrote:
“Historically India’s Congress party has been more comfortable with the Democrats, and Washington and Delhi will draw still closer than they are today. ... An Indo-US condominium...the emerging constellation of a Democrat victory, the Congress govt. and a strengthened US-India axis...”
(‘Chandrika’s options, Ranil’s tactics, JVP’s game, Mahinda’s role’ – island.lk)
I repeated this later in the same year:
“...Historic, ideological and personal ties make for closer convergence between Washington and Delhi under Democratic and Congress administrations... a closely congruent equation between Washington and New Delhi... an Indo-US condominium ...the emerging constellation of a Democrat victory, the Congress government and a strengthened US-India axis ...” (A Kerry Win: Implications for Sri Lanka Oct 14th, 2004)
Commenting in early 2006 on President Bush’s visit to India, I wrote:
“The South Asian region affects us; more so when the development involves both the pre-eminent regional power, our giant neighbour India, and the world’s sole superpower, the US. And yet, Sri Lankans have been notably myopic with regard to the qualitative leap in the Indo-US relationship by means of the nuclear deal, a deal, which is symptomatic of a portentous new factor in world affairs.
This factor could unleash a new, history-making dynamic...The rights and wrongs of the new agreement between Washington and Delhi should not detain us here. What is more pertinent is how the Indo-US axis affects Sri Lankan interests... “
(‘America’s passage to India: Implications for Sri Lanka’, Dayan Jayatilleka -- dailynews.lk)
It is against this backdrop that all thinking Sri Lankans must take cognisance of the chapter on Sri Lanka in a brand new book by Robert D Kaplan, entitled ‘Monsoon: The future of the Indian Ocean and the future of American Power’ (2010).
Kaplan, a member of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board and the Distinguished Visiting Professor at the US Naval Academy is an influential political writer and opinion maker in the strategic community, author of twelve books, and national correspondent for The Atlantic.
Legendary former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, regarded as the author of strategy for the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan and of ‘Communism’ in Poland, describes the book as “an intellectual treat: Beautiful writing is not incompatible with geopolitical imagination and historical flair”.
It is not necessary to concur with Kaplan’s assessment of Sri Lanka.
Prof. Michael Roberts’ and Sergei de Silva–Ranasinghe’s critiques of his extended essay in The Atlantic on Sri Lanka as smacking of ‘Orientalist’ prejudice, resonates with me.
That criticism holds true of his chapter on Sri Lanka in this book, but that is neither here nor there.
What is significant is his main thesis, which the book’s dust-jacket (the hardback’s cover is illustrated with an ancient map in which Ceylon is quite centrally placed) summarises in the following terms:
“Like the monsoon itself, a cyclical weather system that is both destructive and essential for growth and prosperity, the rise of these countries (including India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Tanzania) represents a shift in the global balance that cannot be ignored. The Indian Ocean area will be the true nexus of world power and conflict in the coming years.
It is here that the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and it is here that American foreign policy must concentrate if America is to remain dominant in an ever changing world”.
Having opined that “Sri Lanka grows in importance in this Indian Ocean-centric world” Kaplan writes that “Sri Lanka...is the ultimate register of geopolitical trends in the Indian ocean region” (p 209).
Many Sri Lankans may find this flattering and some part of me does too, but I am far too aware of the seminal observation of the founder of realist history writing, Thucydides: “the real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight: the growth of the power of Athens and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon [Sparta]”.
Acutely aware as I am of the Melian Dialogue in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars, and the relative unimportance of our perceptions of ‘right’ when the perceived strategic interests of the mighty are at stake, I trust that in the great power competition in the Indian Ocean region, Sri Lanka will not be misperceived as a 21st century isle of Melos.


Cholera toll crosses 800 amid UN plea

GENEVA: A cholera epidemic sweeping across Haiti has killed more than 800 people, hospitalised 12,000 and put an estimated 200,000 at risk, the UN said, as it appealed for $163 million in donor aid.
The first outbreak of the disease, which is contracted through contaminated water and causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, was reported in the lower Artibonite region, north of capital Port-au-Prince Oct 22.
As the epidemic found its way to Port-au-Prince -- a tattered city of rubble and tents where more than 1.5 million homeless Haitians are forced to live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions -- hospitals are struggling to cope.
Cholera is a disease of poverty, caused by lack of access to clean water.
Doctors in the earthquake-shattered country expressed concerns that they would soon have to treat cholera patients in unhygienic conditions.
“It’s a really worrying situation for us at the moment,” a doctor from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) said.
“All hospitals in Port-au-Prince are overflowing with patients and we’re seeing seven times the total amount of cases we had three days ago.”
At a medical centre in Cite Soleil, a slum in the north of the capital, MSF recorded 216 cases of cholera Thursday, nearly 10 times as many as earlier this week.
“If the number of cases continues to increase at the same rate, then we’re going to have to adopt some drastic measures to be able to treat people,” the MSF doctor said.
The UN anticipates that up to 200,000 people will show symptoms of cholera, ranging from cases of mild diarrhoea to severe dehydration. (IANS)

Pirates seize ship in Arabian Sea

BEIJING (AFP) - Pirates have seized a ship carrying 29 Chinese sailors in the Arabian Sea, Beijing’s Xinhua news agency quoted the China Marine Rescue Centre as saying yesterday.
The Panamanian-registered freighter, the “Yuan Xiang”, was hijacked late on Friday, Xinhua said.
The China Marine Rescue Centre said it had not been able to contact the ship’s crew and that the fate of the sailors remained unclear.
The centre received a report from the Ningbo Hongyuan Ship Management Co., Ltd. saying the ship had been attacked by pirates late on Friday.
Xinhua said that the pirates had told the shipping company that the vessel was sailing towards Somalia.
The centre said that efforts were under way through international anti-piracy organisations to rescue the crew.
The waters of the Arabian Sea, at the northern tip of the Indian Ocean, have seen hundreds of pirate attacks in recent years.
The UN has warned that Somali pirates are becoming more brazen and keeping ahead of the international naval force seeking to control them.

Queen’s Facebook page filled with abusive comments

London: The Facebook page of Queen Elizabeth and the British royal family has been littered with abusive comments, and Camilla and Charles have become the targets of inappropriate posts, a media report said.
Most of the abusive posts, however, have been deleted and the site’s moderators have warned against inappropriate content on the landing page.
The page was launched on November 8 as an accompaniment to the British royal family’s Twitter and Flickr accounts. While over 220,000 people have “liked” the page, the 28 photo albums have attracted abusive and inappropriate posts.
“The uglys day out,” wrote one user named Silas Headbanger. Another user, Aled Jones, said he was “ashamed” to be British.
“...this outdated institution is a sham and is costing us a fortune, get a job, pay your taxes and be productive,” Jones posted on the page, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The royal family has over 75,500 followers on Twitter and uploads new photos to its Flickr account on a daily basis. It also has a channel on YouTube.
However, it was easier to manage Twitter and Flickr accounts because they were less interactive, Australian social media strategist James Griffin said.
Griffin, from social media intelligence and risk management firm SR7, said the royal family should consider devoting a staff member to monitoring the comments full time. (IANS)