Nation World  


IAEA wants to visit suspect nuclear sites in Myanmar
VIENNA (AFP) - The UN atomic watchdog has asked Myanmar to be allowed to visit a number of suspect nuclear sites and facilities, a source close to the agency said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “has sent an official letter to Myanmar requesting access” to the sites, the source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source was not aware whether any response had been received as yet.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that the IAEA’s safeguards department, which has already sought details in recent months from the Southeast Asian country about a purported nuclear drive, had sent a letter to the ruling military junta.
The watchdog’s request for information comes at a time when the US and some Asian countries have expressed heightened concern about military -- and possible nuclear -- collaboration between Myanmar and North Korea.
Washington has suspected for years that Myanmar has a secret nuclear programme with the support of Pyongyang.

According to recent diplomatic cables leaked by the the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, witnesses have reported suspicious activity as far back as 2004, with dockworkers and foreign businessmen saying they had seen evidence of alleged secret nuclear and missile weapons sites being built deep in the Myanmar jungle.
The IAEA had decided to seek more information as the concerns were serious enough to warrant a request for access, the source said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Myanmar could face a tough international reaction if it rejects the IAEA request for audits of the purported nuclear sites.
Nevertheless, officials and experts have expressed uncertainty over the country’s atomic intentions, the newspaper added.
A large portion of the equipment said to have been sought by Myanmar has non-nuclear uses, and defectors might have exaggerated the nation’s nuclear ambitions for political reasons, it quoted proliferation analysts and former IAEA staffers as saying.


New Gaza war ‘only a question of time’

LONDON: A senior Israeli army officer has said that as long as Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip, another war is “only a question of time”.
He said the Palestinian group had rearmed so much since the Israeli offensive two years ago that it was now in a stronger position militarily.
There has been an increase in rocket fire coming from Gaza in the past week.
Earlier, Israeli defence officials said tanks fitted with a new missile defence system would be deployed near Gaza.
The Israeli-developed active protection system (APS) known as Trophy is designed to destroy missiles like the Russian-made AT-14 Kornet, one of which hit a Merkava Mk3 tank on 6 December.
The laser-guided missile - which carries 10kg (22lb) of high explosive - penetrated the tank’s armour, but did not injure its crew.
“Fortunately, it did not explode within the tank. It is a heavy missile that is among the most dangerous that we have seen on this front and was not used even during the Lebanon war,” Israeli Chief-of-Staff Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi told a closed-door parliamentary session on Tuesday.
“The situation in the south is very fragile and explosive.”
The Trophy APS, which has so far been fitted to a battalion of more advanced Merkava Mk4 tanks, uses radars and sensors to identify threats, then releases special explosives to neutralise them.
No Palestinian militant groups have said they were behind the attack.
Hamas is not thought to have been behind the increased rocket fire from Gaza this week, to which Israel retaliated with air strikes.
However, Israel has said it will increase attacks on Hamas facilities even if the movement is not responsible.
The group has controlled Gaza since June 2007, after winning elections in 2006 and then forcing its secular rivals Fatah, the party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, out of the territory.
The UN has said at least 62 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli action in Gaza so far this year. Over the same period, one Thai farm worker has been killed by rockets fired from the coastal territory into Israel.
Israel’s 22-day clash with Palestinian militants in Gaza left an estimated 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. - BBC


Indian govt offers debate on 2G corruption scandal
NEW DELHI: The Indian government has offered to hold a special session of parliament to discuss an opposition demand for a joint probe into a huge corruption scandal.
Parliament is deadlocked over demands for an inquiry into the sale of 2G phone licences, estimated to have lost the exchequer billions of dollars.
The offer came hours after the opposition held an anti-sleaze protest.
However, the ruling Congress party also accuses the opposition of hypocrisy.
Investigators are looking into why so-called 2G phone licences were sold for a fraction of their value, costing the government an estimated $37bn (£23bn) in lost revenue.
A cross-party parliamentary public accounts committee is examining the federal auditor’s report into the scandal.
But the opposition has been demanding that the matter be investigated by a joint parliamentary committee, which has more scope.
Federal Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made the offer of a special session of parliament at a TV awards function.
“If [the opposition] assures us that there will be a debate, I am ready to call a special session before the budget session so that this issue is debated,” Mukherjee said.
The leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj, who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said it would wait for a formal offer from the government before responding to it.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari told the BBC there was plenty of evidence to suggest corruption went to the top of the government.
Their remarks came days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a Congress party conference that he had “nothing to hide” from the 2G spectrum investigation.
He told a party meeting he was ready to be questioned by a parliamentary panel over the matter.
Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi told the same conference that corruption was a “disease spreading through our society”.
Another high-profile corruption inquiry is continuing into claims that organisers of the Delhi Commonwealth Games swindled millions of dollars from the October event.
An apparent scam involving homes for war widows going to cronies in Maharashtra prompted the Congress party last month to sack the chief minister of the western Indian state.


British coalition hit by Murdoch row

Cameron under fire

LONDON (AFP) - Britain’s coalition government was hit by fresh evidence of internal tensions from a newspaper sting that has caused a row over a minister’s unguarded remarks about Rupert Murdoch.
The Daily Telegraph published new remarks by Liberal Democrats serving in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government, in which they openly question the premier’s sincerity and say he cannot be trusted.
The minister for care services, Paul Burstow, was quoted as saying: “I don’t want you to trust David Cameron”, while local government minister Andrew Stunell said he did not know where Cameron stood on the “sincerity monitor”.
They were speaking to undercover reporters posing as constituents who have already caught out Business Secretary and senior Liberal Democrat Vince Cable and caused a major political row.
Cable told the two female reporters that he had “declared war” on Murdoch over a bid by the media mogul’s News Corporation to take control of pay TV company BSkyB.
The remarks emerged as British regulators mull the takeover deal, and forced Cameron to remove Cable from any role in reviewing the bid. The prime minister also stripped him of powers over media, telecom and broadcasting firms.
In the same sting, Cable was recorded threatening to “bring the government down” if the centre-left Lib Dems were forced to compromise too much with the centre-right Tories.
Cable, a former chief economist for oil giant Shell, is one of the Lib Dems’ few big names but has also been viewed as one of the coalition’s unhappiest members because he resents the compromises his party has been asked to make.
Conservatives meanwhile are furious that Cable has been given preferential treatment because of his key role in holding together the coalition.
They point out that when a senior Tory spoke out of line a few weeks ago, Cameron immediately sacked him.
“When we get into the new year, the prime minister will have to assess whether propping up the Liberal Democrats is in the long-term best interests of the Conservative Party and the country,” lawmaker Christopher Chope told the BBC.
But Oliver Letwin, the Conservative in charge of formulating government policy, insisted that “deep bonds of trust” had developed in the seven months since the two parties were bound together in an unlikely coalition.
He told The Guardian that the centre-right Conservatives had discovered “a huge amount of policy overlap with the Liberal Democrats”, whose politics make them more natural allies for the opposition Labour party.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, has tried to smooth things over, arguing it was no surprise that “there are differences of opinion in a coalition, as there are indeed in all governments”.
Cameron backed his efforts, telling reporters: “Look at the bigger picture -- this government is delivering in terms of the real problems the country faces.”
However, the fresh evidence of divisions will only add to the pressure on the government.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said Wednesday that the revelations showed the coalition was “a sham”.
News Corporation’s bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB that it does not already own was approved by EU regulators this week. After Cable’s humiliation, it will now be scrutinised by culture minister Jeremy Hunt.
Hunt has indicated he is broadly supportive to Murdoch, raising questions about whether he is biased in an opposite direction to Cable. However, senior civil servant Gus O’Donnell insisted the minister had not pre-judged the issue.


China pledges support to eurozone countries

BEIJING (AFP) - China, already the banker to the US and a major investor in emerging markets, is now positioning itself as the potential “white knight” saviour to debt-laden Europe, analysts say.
Beijing has vowed to support European countries struggling under mountains of debt by buying their government bonds, which experts say could help ease tensions over a range of trade issues as well as boost China’s global standing.
Backing the euro also serves the Asian country’s own interests by helping to ensure its biggest trade partner continues buying its exports while also diversify its world-leading foreign exchange holdings away from the dollar.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters on Thursday that the European Union would “be one of the major markets for our forex investment” in the future.
European officials however insist no incentives such as recognition of China’s market economy status or a reconsideration of an arms embargo have been offered in return for Beijing’s much-needed financial lifeline.
“On the one hand they get to be the white knight and maybe that has some political benefit,” Patrick Chovanec, an economics professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said.
“It also fits with their plan to diversify away from the US dollar.”
Boosting its holdings of euro bonds is a good investment for China and could ease pressure on Beijing over its yuan exchange rate controls and restrictions on rare earth exports, analysts said.


Revived Obama celebrates year-end wins

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama has capped a crisis-strewn first two White House years by flexing restored power at home and abroad as he secured big wins in Congress on nuclear arms and gay rights.
Obama won Senate ratification Wednesday of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia that he said sent a “powerful signal” to the world, and fulfilled a Democratic vow by signing a bill allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
On both issues, the president took on and beat fierce obstruction by Republicans just six weeks after his foes raised serious questions about his political viability after giving him a “shellacking” in mid-term elections.
“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck (Congress), I am persistent -- if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it,” Obama said, in a warning to Republicans who will take over the House of Representatives and increase their Senate numbers in the new Congress next month.
Obama spoke after senators voted 71-26 to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), clearing the needed two-thirds majority for a pact the president had made a linchpin of efforts to “reset” relations with Moscow.