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
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
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’
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
“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
No Palestinian militant groups have said they were behind
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
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. -
|Indian govt offers debate on 2G
|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
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
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
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
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
|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
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
|China pledges support to eurozone
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
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
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
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
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.