|Jordan Islamists in ‘frank’ talks with
|(AFP) AMMAN – Jordan’s Islamist leaders, who are pushing
for political and economic changes, said on their website
that talks with King Abdullah II had been “frank” and
centred on reform.
“The meeting with the king was frank and clear and touched
on various national problems, notably political reform, a
modern and democratic electoral law... which will lead to
the formation of a Parliamentary government,” the Islamic
Action Front (IAF) said of its meeting with the monarch.
The talks, it added in the statement posted on its website
late Thursday, had also focussed on making “the
constitutional amendments necessary for a partnership with
all political forces.”
The IAF, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, wants
the constitution to be amended to allow the head of the
Parliamentary majority to become de facto prime minister.
The 1952 constitution gives the king sole prerogative in
appointing and removing premiers.
After Thursday’s talks in Amman, the royal palace issued a
statement stating that Abdullah had acknowledged during the
meeting that reforms have “decelerated and stumbled,” and
pledged “serious steps” for change.
“Jordan’s reform drive has decelerated and stumbled, which
cost the country a lot of chances to achieve progress,” the
statement quoted the king as telling the leaders of the
Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF.
However, he continued: “I see a real opportunity to
implement global reforms that will enable Jordan to become
an example of security and stability.”
“My vision for comprehensive reforms and modernisation must
be translated into practical and serious steps focussing on
all Jordanians and the country’s interests,” the monarch
In its Internet statement, the IAF said it had stressed “the
urgency of serious measures on the path to reform.”
“The king expressed his understanding and his intention to
implement his vision of reform that will enable a new era,”
the IAF said, adding that their delegation had submitted to
the king a written document detailing their demands for
On Tuesday the king named Maaruf Bakhit, 64, a career
soldier and former premier, as prime minister after sacking
the government of Samir Rifai, 43, following weeks of
protests to demand political and economic reforms.
He instructed Bakhit to “take practical, quick and tangible
steps to launch true political reforms.” However, the
powerful IAF criticised the monarch’s choice, saying that
Bakhit was not a reformist.
|US mission will be safe after Iraq
(AFP) WASHINGTON – The US envoy to
Baghdad and the senior US commander in Iraq have assured
sceptical lawmakers that the US diplomatic mission there
will be well protected after US troops withdraw in late
A private security force some 5,500 strong will protect the
large US diplomatic presence in Iraq, US Ambassador James
Jeffrey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Jeffrey and General Lloyd Austin, the commander of US
military forces in Iraq, said they were confident that the
force was adequate, and that Iraq will remain stable once US
troops have departed.
Both also said they were confident Iraq’s US-trained
military and police could maintain order once US troops
exit. Iraqi security forces “have a good capability” to
confront Shiite extremist groups and Al-Qaeda in Iraq,
Republican Senator John McCain however was not convinced.
“I’m deeply concerned about this issue of complete US
withdrawal,” said McCain, a strong supporter of the
2007-2008 military “surge” in Iraq.
McCain questioned the Iraqi military’s capacity to use
high-tech weapons to pinpoint targets and avoid unnecessary
civilian deaths, and its ability to build an air force
without US help.
McCain also said he was was “very concerned” about radical
Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his close ties with Iran.
The fiery Sadr gained widespread popularity among Shiites in
the months after the 2003 US-led invasion, and his Mahdi
Army militia battled US and Iraqi government forces in
several bloody confrontations.
Sadr suspended Mahdi Army activities in August 2008, after
major US-supported Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in
Baghdad and southern Iraq.
Sadr came to Iraq in early January after four years of
self-imposed exile in Iran, but returned to Iran after just
Austin and Jeffrey also said they had no indication the
Iraqis want the US military to remain beyond 2012 --
shattering a long-held assumption in official Washington.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham was skeptical about the
strength of a private protection force.
“Would it make sense financially, security-wise, to have a
military footprint left behind, if the Iraqis request, to
continue to provide security for US State Department
officials and others?” he asked.
Austin insisted the private security force would be
Starting in 2012, the US presence in Iraq will consist of up
to 20,000 civilians at sites that include two embassy
branches, two consulates, and three police training centers.
The figures includes armed private security personnel,
support staff and diplomats.
Currently there are 2,700 armed security contractors in
Iraq, Jeffrey told the senators.
Austin said US military advisers and trainers would stay to
support the Iraqi military with US-made equipment such as
M1A1 tanks, military aircraft and patrol ships. He did not
give a figure, but said they would not include combat
Just 50,000 US troops are currently in Iraq, down from a
peak of more than 170,000 and ahead of the full withdrawal
in late 2011.
“We face a critical moment now in Iraq, where we’ll
either... finish the job and build upon the sacrifices made,
or we will risk core US national security interests,”
Jeffrey told the senators.
He described it as “a historic opportunity and a critical
window to help Iraq emerge as a strategic partner and a
force for stability and moderation in a troubled region.”
The government of then president George W. Bush agreed to
the withdrawal terms with the administration of Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki in November 2008.
|Berlusconi wins brief respite from sex
(AFP) ROME – Italian Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi won some brief respite from raging sex
scandals when parliament rejected a request from prosecutors
to search his accountant’s offices.
The vote was carried by 315 votes in favour to 298 against –
a far higher majority than the beleaguered Berlusconi has
enjoyed recently, after scraping through a no-confidence
vote in parliament in
December last year.
The victory is a largely symbolic one as prosecutors are
expected next week to request a trial against Berlusconi for
abuse of power in an inquiry involving a young nightclub
dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart-Stealer.
The accusation is part of a wider investigation into the
74-year-old Italian leader on allegations of hand-picking
prostitutes for wild parties and paying to have sex with
Ruby when she was still under 18 – a criminal offence.
The prime minister’s loyal accountant for the past 30 years,
Giuseppe Spinelli, is alleged to have handled payments to
the women, including arranging rent-free accommodation in a
suburban complex built by Berlusconi in the 1970s.
Spinelli’s office is considered as being under parliamentary
privilege because of Berlusconi’s status as a Member of
Parliament. The opposition has accused Berlusconi of hiding
from prosecution behind his status for years.
The latest scandal over Ruby, whose real name is Karima El
Mahroug, erupted on January 14 and came after a top court
modified a temporary immunity law that has shielded the
Italian leader from impending corruption trials.
|Myanmar picks junta insider as
|(AFP) YANGON – Myanmar named a key retired general as
president on Friday, an official said, as the military
hierarchy retained its stranglehold on power in the
country’s new political system.
Thein Sein, who shed his army uniform to contest
controversial elections last year, “was elected as the
president with a majority vote,” a Myanmar official told AFP
on condition of anonymity.
The former junta prime minister had been tipped for the post
even before the electoral committee vote, supporting fears
that the regime has engineered the political process to hide
military power behind a civilian facade.
A key ally of junta strongman Than Shwe, the 65-year-old
became a civilian to contest the November election as head
of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party
(USDP), which claimed an overwhelming majority in the poll.
One of the president’s first jobs will be to appoint a
government, and he can be confident of little resistance
from a parliament dominated by the military and its cronies.
Sources said he was likely to retain his position as prime
minister in addition to his new role.
Under complex parliamentary rules, the upper house, lower
house and members of the military each nominated one vice
A select committee then chose the president from the three
candidates, all of them members of the USDP as Myanmar’s
military, which has ruled the country since 1962, continued
The two vice presidents are Tin Aung Myint Oo, another
retired top general and Than Shwe ally, and an ethnic Shan,
Sai Mouk Kham.
Though Than Shwe, who has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist
since 1992, has not taken the top political role, many
analysts believe he will attempt to retain some sort of
control behind the scenes.
Maung Zarni, of the London School of Economics, said the
country’s power structure was “classic dictatorship.”
“The good guys do not get promoted,” he said.
But Myanmar expert Aung Naing Oo said the very fact that
Than Shwe was taking a back seat could present a small
opportunity for change.
|British ‘home-grown’ terror threat
(AFP) LONDON – Britain faces a
growing threat from home-grown jihadists who are beyond the
“radar screen” of intelligence authorities, leaked cables
seen by The Telegraph newspaper revealed.
In the memos, leaked to the British newspaper by the
WikiLeaks website, intelligence officials admitted they
would be “hard-pressed” to prevent attacks from British-born
radicals who undergo training to become “suicide
According to one cable, a senior official from Britain’s
secret intelligence service, MI6, told visiting US
congressmen that “the internal threat in the UK is growing
The counter-terrorism official claimed this was because
extremists could conduct training within Britain and if they
“should turn operational” authorities “would be hard pressed
to find them on any ‘radar screen’.”
The unnamed MI6 officer added that it was “wholly or largely
dependent” on help from the CIA and other US agencies when
it came to monitoring the terror threat.
The documents also exposed US concern that “a certain amount
of so-called ‘jihadi tourism’ to southern Somalia by UK
citizens of Somali ethnicity,” had been occurring.
Details of a 2009 meeting between British government
officials and a senior US State Department representative
showed that London was also concerned about Somalia’s role
as a breeding ground for terrorism.
The British officials noted an increased threat from
“home-grown jihadists and radicaliSed British Somalis...,
particularly those who have traveled to Somalia or Pakistan
for indoctrination and training,” the memo said.
|Thai soldier dies in fresh fighting at
|(AFP) PHNOM PENH – A Thai soldier was killed in clashes
with Cambodian troops at the two countries’ border early
Saturday, bringing the toll to three in the deadliest
fighting between the neighbours in almost two years.
Renewed gunfights broke out briefly near a disputed 11th
century temple, officials on both sides said, just hours
after earlier skirmishes left a Cambodian soldier and a Thai
“One Thai soldier was killed by shrapnel and four were
injured in a clash lasting about 30 minutes early this
morning,” said Thai army spokesman Colonel Sunsern
In a statement, the Cambodian government accused Thai troops
of “firing mortar rounds into Cambodia’s Preah Vihear
A Cambodian military commander who did not wish to be named
said that one Thai soldier had been captured in the morning
Clashes between the neighbours erupted for the first time in
more than a year on Friday as simmering border tensions
Six Thai and at least four Cambodian soldiers were also
injured in the first bout of fighting, and four Thai troops
Cambodia has called the fighting an “invasion”, while
Thailand has branded it an “act of aggression” by its
neighbour as both countries accused the other of starting
“The United States urges both sides to exercise maximum
restraint and take all necessary steps to reduce tensions
and avoid further conflict,” said a a US State Department
spokeswoman in response to Friday’s clashes.
The Thai foreign ministry issued a statement early Saturday
accusing Cambodia of attacking first, calling it a “clear
violation” of Thai “territorial integrity”.
Thailand claimed Cambodia fired mortars, rocket propelled
grenades and artillery shells into Thai territory, and said
three thousand civilians living along the border had to be
The Cambodian foreign ministry released a similar statement
about Friday’s clashes, saying “300 Thai troops entered
Cambodian territory and attacked Cambodian troops”.
“This aggression by Thai armed forces was also followed by
the firings of many 130mm and 155mm artillery shells which
reached as far as about 20 kilometres (12 miles) inside
Cambodian territory,” it said.
The area around the temple is claimed by both sides, and
Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Phnom
Penh planned to complain to the United Nations on Saturday.
Ties between the two countries have been strained since July
2008 by a series of deadly border clashes over land
surrounding the temple after it was granted UN World
Thailand and Cambodia have both been talking tough on the
border issue, which some observers say serves nationalist
goals at home on both sides.
The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear itself
belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in
Thailand. The exact boundary through the surrounding grounds
remains in dispute.
The Thai-Cambodia border has never been fully demarcated,
partly because it is littered with landmines left over from
decades of war in Cambodia.
Another border spat has focused on the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara
pagoda, which is built in the disputed area. Thailand on
Monday demanded that Cambodia remove its flag from the
pagoda, which it said was “situated on Thai territory” -- a
claim Cambodia vehemently rejects.
Tensions between the two countries have flared in recent
weeks in the wake of the arrest of seven Thai nationals for
illegal entry into Cambodia in late December.
Five of the group were given suspended sentences and have
since returned to Thailand. The other two, high-profile
nationalist activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary,
were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for spying, in a case
that has caused outrage among Thailand’s influential “Yellow
Hundreds of Yellow Shirt protesters have camped out around
Government House in Bangkok since last week, demonstrating
against its handling of the border dispute, and the group
plans a larger rally on Saturday.
|Sex trafficking: Dark side of the
|(AFP) DALLAS – As thousands of fans flood to Dallas for
this weekend’s Super Bowl, young girls are being forcibly
brought to the city to participate in a game that has
nothing to do with American football.
Police and women’s groups have joined together to clamp down
on what they fear will be rampant sex trafficking, a modern
form of slavery involving pimps selling girls and young
women who have been coerced into prostitution.
Dallas Cowboy Jay Ratliff joined the campaign by starring in
a public service announcement ahead of Sunday’s game between
the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.
“If you’re one of these men buying these young girls, I’m
telling you that real men don’t buy children. They don’t buy
sex,” Ratliff says in the announcement.
Dallas police aren’t sure how many sex traffickers will be
among the estimated 150,000 visitors set to arrive here, but
they expect enough to warrant beefing up security.
“We’re bringing in extra vice. And undercover officers will
be scattered in different hotels looking for trafficking
activity,” said Dallas police spokesperson Kevin Jansen.
The police department in Arlington, where the Cowboys
Stadium is located, created a “Dear John” billboard campaign
with mug shots of men convicted of buying sex and a warning
that says “This could be you.”
Super Bowl host cities have always had to contend with pimps
coming in to profit from the crowds drawn by the game. Last
year in Miami, the event drew as many as 10,000 prostitutes,
including minors, according to police.
Women and church groups have formed coalitions with Traffick
911, a Texas organisation that launched the “I’m Not Buying
It” campaign for Super Bowl 45.
Using the Internet, street teams and the media, they have
saturated hotels, restaurants and neighbourhoods with
information aiming to deter the
“We have groups going all over Northeast Texas trying to
raise awareness,” said Deena Graves, director of Traffick
911, which is based in Fort Worth.
Many of the children forced into the sex trade are runaways
from within the United States, but large numbers of young
women forced into prostitution are from other, often poor
Victims are often as young as 12 to 14 years old and their
average life expectancy in the dangerous world of human
trafficking is just seven years, Graves said.
Violence, forced drug use, coercion and threats are methods
that pimps and traffickers use to assure the victims’
|US mounts India business push
|(AFP) WASHINGTON – US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
heads next week to India on a mission to turn warming
political ties into business – especially, he hopes, in the
lucrative area of fighter jets.
As part of President Barack Obama’s push to fuel US growth
through exports, Locke will spend six days in India
accompanied by leaders of 24 US companies including major
players in defence and nuclear power.
The trip – the first by a US cabinet member to India since
Obama’s visit in November – comes shortly after the United
States ended most restrictions on sensitive technology
exports to New Delhi, meeting a key concern.
Locke said that the United States hoped to seize on the
opening and convince India that US business offered “a
win-win opportunity” as the South Asian nation manages its
rapid economic growth.
“Expanding our exports to India represents the kind of
mutually beneficial trade that creates jobs in both India
and the United States,” Locke told reporters.
Locke said a “high-priority focus” would be to showcase
fighter jets. India is looking to buy 126 multi-role
aircraft to replenish its aging fleet in a deal likely worth
at least $12 billion.
On Tuesday, Locke will visit the Bangalore air show with
executives from the Lockheed Martin Corp., which wants to
sell its F-16IN Super Viper, and the Boeing Co., which is
promoting its Super Hornet.
Ashley Tellis, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, expected that Indian leaders will face
intense canvassing from other countries on the aircraft
“Getting a foothold in the burgeoning Indian defence market
is seen to promise larger long-term payoffs,” as India plans
more military purchases in years to come, Tellis wrote in a
Locke said he expected deals during his visit but played
down the chance of big-ticket announcements, saying he was
looking toward long-term business.
|Nepal TV station in the dark
|(BBC) – Since the beginning of February, Kantipur
Television has used only a kerosene (paraffin) lantern to
light its 30-minute-long 7pm news bulletin.
The head of Kantipur News said that the aim was to put
pressure on the government to tackle the problem.
Nepal is currently suffering about 12 hours of power cuts a
“We want the government to produce more electricity as soon
as possible,” Kantipur News head Tirtha Koirala told the
“So far we’ve been getting a very positive response from our
audience, but nothing yet from the government.”
Despite having massive hydro-power potential, Nepal produces
less than half its electricity needs.
A 10-year civil conflict between Maoist rebels and the
state, which ended in 2006, has meant that there has been
little investment in Nepal’s power sector.
On top of this, the country’s power supply was badly
affected after the destruction of electricity transmission
lines during the Kosi River floods in 2008.
This means that load-shedding – when the authorities shut
down power to a particular area in order to conserve
electricity – has become a factor of daily life.
The problem is particularly acute in winter when a lack of
rainfall and low water levels in the rivers means that
existing hydro-electric plants are not operating at full
capacity. The state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority has
said that the country can expect at least 14 hours of power
cuts a day in the next few weeks.
“We are suffering tremendously because of load-shedding,”
“About 400,000 students are currently trying to study for
their School Leaving Certificate and they don’t have any
light in the evening.
“Also small and medium enterprises who can’t afford a
generator or an inverter aren’t able to operate.”
Koirala said his television news bulletin would continue to
be broadcast in darkness until the government responded.
|Indo-Lanka relationship complete and satisfying
|Says Prof G L Peiris at ITEC Day Event
|The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC)
programme confers immense benefits on trainees from 159
countries, and Sri Lanka is delighted that 145 slots have
been allocated to our country this year, Professor G L
Peiris, Minister of External Affairs, said in his
observations as Chief Guest at the ITEC Day ceremony at
Hotel Taj Samudra recently.
The Minister said that this programme, inaugurated in 1964,
is an exceedingly useful instrument in South-South
co-operation. In a situation where there is a sharp focus on
South Asia as an economic growth centre in a global context,
skills development is an essential priority. This is
especially appropriate, since the countries of the region
represent a reservoir of human resources of unique calibre,
Prof Peiris referred to the dramatically increasing
employment opportunities available to youth in South Asian
countries in the current economic and social environment,
and pointed out the critical need to provide structured
programmes of training to develop skills for which there is
a practical demand.
One of the commendable features of the programme, the
Minister commented, is the market-driven approach which has
been consistently adopted. More than 5,000 students are
being trained in 46 institutes in both public and the
It is especially noteworthy, the Minister continued, that
the emphasis in the curricula is being constantly revamped
and modified to cater for emerging priorities. The areas in
which training is provided include information technology,
linguistics, computer studies, rural development and
entrepreneurship, and the 230 short and long-term courses on
offer in 46 institutions of established stature have
recently been expanded to include highly relevant subjects
like renewable sources of energy and mining techniques.
Prof Peiris expressed appreciation of the action taken by
India’s Ministry of External Affairs to increase
progressively the number of slots allocated to Sri Lanka
from 80 in 2007 to 145 in 2011.
The Minister referred to the complete and satisfying
relationship between Sri Lanka and India in a wide array of
fields including co-operation in the economic, educational
and defence fields.
India’s High Commissioner Ashok K Kantha, in his address,
commented on the provision of an opportunity, as part of the
agenda, for three alumni of the ITEC programme to make their
observations on the value of their experience in India. The
reflections by the alumni – from Wayamba University, the
Board of Investment and the Ministry of Trade and Commerce
amply demonstrated the practical usefulness of the programme
and its contribution to the success of their future careers.
High Commissioner Kantha recalled that President Mahinda
Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had resolved,
during President Rajapaksa’s visit to India last year, to
establish a Knowledge Bridge between the two countries. He
identified this concept, founded on recognition of the
importance of collaboration in education, vocational
training and technology transfer, as a crucial element of
bilateral initiatives in the human resource development
sector. He described the substantial impact of the ITEC
programme on schools, hospitals, universities and other
institutions in the beneficiary countries and the consequent
enrichment of community life in general.
Deputy High Commissioner Vikram stressed the significance of
the opportunity afforded by the event to alumni of the ITEC
programme over the years to share their experiences and to
interact with one another.
Among those participating in the event was Tilak Collure,
Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, Dr Sunimal
Fernando, Presidential Advisor, and Tissa Jayaweera, Kosala
Wickremanayake and Dr Anura Ekanayake representing the
Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
|Ven Dr Dodangoda Rewatha appointed as
Chief Sangha Nayake of India
|By Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Chief
Sangha Nayake of America
The Kotte Chapter of Sri Kalyana Samaggri Dharma Maha Sangha
Sabha has appointed Ven Dodangoda Rewatha as the Chief
Sangha Nayake of India.
He will be headquartered at Buddhagaya.
Ven Dr Rewatha has been living in India for over 45 years,
and has served as the General Secretary of the Maha Bodhi
Society for the past 10 years. He began his Dhammaduta
(service to the Dhamma) activities in 1973, and has been a
devoted, dedicated and courageous monk ever since. He is
known for ‘never giving up’ no matter what the circumstances
As far as I know, Ven Dr Rewatha has travelled to more
Buddhist landmarks in India than any other monk in history.
Many of us have been to most of the places where the Buddha
lived and preached, but Ven Dr Rewatha has literally been to
all of them as they are recorded in the Tripitaka.
Under his administration, the Maha Bodhi Society founded the
Society’s temple at Lumbini, built the Dharmapala Museum,
guesthouse and Dana Sala at Saranath and he developed and
maintained other important Maha Bodhi Society centres
throughout India. When Buddhist pilgrims from around the
world visit the sacred sites in India he continues to
provide his support, shelter and personal assistance. This
is especially so when Sri Lankans make the pilgrimage and
encounter difficulties; he is always there to offer medical
and other forms of aid.
Some years back when forward-looking Ven Dr Rewatha
considered the future of Buddhism in India, he established a
training school in Saranath for local and international
samaneras who wished to enter the Sangha. In neighbouring
countries such as Bhutan and Nepal, he tirelessly promoted
Buddhism, and supported the local communities of Sangha
members in their efforts to provide teachings and other
Ven Dr Rewatha is an author of various books on Buddhism in
the Hindi and English languages. He is also a Sinhalese
translator of such Buddhist books as Old Path White Clouds
by Ven Thich Nhat Hahn, and others.
Ven Dr Rewatha has extreme sadha, or faith. For example,
whenever he goes to Sri Lanka – even if it is for a short
period – he never fails to visit Dalada Maligawa in Kandy,
Sri Mahabodhi in Anuradhapura, and the Kataragama
Kirivehera. He is known for his life-long friendships, good
humour, and humanitarian work.
I offer my congratulations to my friend, Ven Dr Rewatha, and
wish him much success in this new phase of his Dhammaduta
career. My thanks go to my Sangha Council of Kotte for
giving him this well-deserved, high honour.
|Lenin’s body still divides Russia
|(AFP) MOSCOW – Nearly a century after his death,
communist leader Vladimir Lenin still rests in a glass
display case on Red Square, his embalmed body a stark
counterpoint to Russia’s latest modernisation effort.
The controversial idea of burying Lenin has been a permanent
feature of Russian politics since the Soviet Union’s fall in
1991, when millions happily parted ways with a system that
had outlived its times.
But so far, no one has dared take the ultimate step of so
dramatically breaking links with a leader who introduced
Russia to both the promises of communism and the horrors of
Gulag death camps.
While Russia tries to present a modern new image under its
iPad-toting President Dmitry Medvedev, tens of thousands of
people still come every year to see the communist founder,
his finely-coiffed body reclining in a sarcophagus.
This dissonance seems to be needling the ruling United
Russia party on the eve of December parliamentary elections,
with several officials leading calls for Lenin to be laid to
rest alongside his mother in Saint Petersburg.
“I do not see a single thing standing in the way of his
burial,” United Russia lawmaker Vladimir Medinsky told AFP,
arguing that a Saint Petersburg burial was a part of the
Lenin family’s will.
United Russia has even set up a special website,
www.goodbyelenin.ru, named after a 2003 German tragi-comedy
about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Two-thirds of the
respondents to the site’s survey said they wanted to see
Though informal, the poll was confirmed by another study
conducted by the respected Levada Centre, which showed that
56 percent of those questioned favoured seeing the body
removed from public viewing.
But while it might make for good pre-election politics, a
Kremlin official said last month that for now at least,
Lenin was staying.
“As far as I know, no decision on this subject has yet been
reached, and none is forthcoming,” said Kremlin property
manager Viktor Khrekov.
Analysts say that while the issue is less poignant than it
was a decade ago, government officials still raise the
prospects of burying Lenin to draw in the country’s younger
voters, some of whom have no memory of Soviet times.
This is “an eternal debate that follows the recipe of
uniting non-communist voters,” said Andrei Ryabov of the
Carnegie Moscow Centre.
Lenin or no Lenin, the country’s leftists have been losing
members years, their ranks unable to pick up younger voters
who either go with the Kremlin candidate or ignore politics
Russia’s Communist Party received just 11.57 percent of
votes in the 2007 parliamentary elections and its candidate,
Gennady Zyuganov, won just 17.72 percent of the ballot when
he ran for president the following year.
|World food prices reach record high
|(AFP) ROME – World food prices reached their highest
level ever in January, the UN food agency said, as
economists warned chaos in Egypt could push prices up
further and foment more unrest in the region.
Rising food prices have been cited among the driving forces
behind the recent popular revolts in North Africa, including
the uprising in Egypt and the toppling of Tunisia’s
long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
And in its latest survey, the Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) said its index, which monitors monthly
price changes for a variety of staples, averaged 231 points
in January – the highest since records began in 1990.
“The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on
world food prices is not abating. These high prices are
likely to persist in the months to come,” said Abdolreza
Abbassian, an economist for FAO, which is based in Rome.
The Index rose by 3.4 percent from December – with big
increases in particular for dairy, cereal and oil prices.
The rises were most significant in China, India, Indonesia
and Russia, data from FAO’s monthly report showed.
Capital Economics, a consultancy in London, blamed extreme
weather conditions last year and added: “The resulting
increases in food prices have contributed to social unrest
in many countries, including in Egypt.”
The consultancy warned of a vicious circle in which the
crisis in Egypt could raise prices even further since other
Arab governments were beginning to restrict exports and
stockpile food supplies to prevent similar unrest.
“Even if the crisis in Egypt eases soon, the actions taken
by governments elsewhere to prevent similar uprisings in
their own countries will add to the upward pressure on
global agricultural commodity prices,” it added.
The FAO’s Abbassian however said some countries had become
better at managing price shocks after a series of food riots
in 2007 and 2008.
“They have learnt from previous episodes,” he said, adding:
“There are a lot of factors that could spark turmoil in
countries and food is one of them.”
The FAO data showed that prices for dairy products rose by
6.2 percent from December, oils and fats gained 5.6 percent,
while cereals went up by 3.0 percent because of lower global
supply of wheat and maize.
“The increase in prices follows stronger export demand
during the last month and concerns about tightening supplies
of high quality wheat. The market was also supported by
higher oil prices and a weaker US dollar,” FAO said.
Meat prices remained broadly stable due to a fall in prices
in Europe caused by last month’s scare over dioxin poisoning
in eggs and pork in Germany, compensated by a slight
increase in export prices from Brazil and the United States.
|Hunger stunts Philippine children
|(AFP) MANILA – A third of Philippine school children are
stunted because poverty has forced them to eat too little
food for years, according to a government study released
The latest findings of a rolling survey carried out for
decades by the government’s Food and Nutrition Research
Institute reflect the general poverty rate and the
boom-and-bust economic cycles of the country.
The latest data, which is for 2008 but was only released on
Thursday, showed 33.1 percent of 100,000 students surveyed
across the country suffered from chronic malnutrition.
This was due to them not eating enough food over a long
period and led to them being shorter than they should be,
although the survey did not publish specific heights.
“Being underheight is a result of a long period of
inadequate nutrition,” Eva Goyena, a science research
specialist at the institute, told AFP on Friday.
The chronic malnutrition rate had risen slightly from 32
percent in 2005, the last time the survey was carried out,
but was down from a high of 44.8 percent recorded in 1990.
The 2008 study found that Philippine students aged between
six and 12 consumed an average of 599 grammmes (21.13
ounces) of food a day.
Half of the food was steamed rice, while 76 grammes were
fish and 33 grammes were milk products.
“This is really inadequate because rice is mostly
carbohydrates for energy and there are more protein-rich
foods than fish,” Goyena said.
She said a long-term diet of this type would lead to the
child becoming stunted.
The malnourished children were deficient in key nutrients
such as iron, Vitamin A, calcium and iodine, according to
Chronic malnutrition begins in infancy, the study suggested,
with more than eight in 10 Philippine toddlers aged between
six months and five years not eating enough to meet the
recommended daily energy and nutrient intake.
Acute malnutrition, which reflects more recent setbacks such
as illness or failing to eat properly over the past week,
stood at 25.6 percent in 2008 among school children, up from
22.8 percent in 2005.
|Ambassador Dr Dayan Jayatilleka
presents credentials to President Sarkozy
|Sarkozy Newly-appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of Sri Lanka to France, Dr Dayan Jayatilleka
presented credentials to the President of the French
Republic, Nicholas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on Friday,
28 January 2011. President Sarkozy has recently taken over
the chairmanship of the G8 and G20
|School equipment for hambantota
Hambantota District UNP Parliamentarian and Chairman of the
Janasuwaya Foundation Sajith Premadasa distributing savings
books and school equipment worth Rs.160,000 to children in
the Koggalla zone of the Ambalantota Division of the
Hambantota District in order to provide the children with a
secure future. MP Premadasa has initiated many projects to
enhance livelihoods and infrastructure of all communities
living in the Hambantota District
|Amazon’s double dry spell worries
|(AFP) WASHINGTON – A pair of unusually severe droughts
have parched the Amazon in recent years, raising concern
about the rainforest’s future as a major absorber of carbon
emissions, said a study on Thursday.
A rare drought in 2005 was billed as a
once-in-a-hundred-years event, but then it was followed by
another drought in 2010 that may have been even worse, said
the team of British and Brazilian experts in the journal
Since the droughts killed many trees, the scientists predict
that the Amazon will not be able to absorb as much carbon
dioxide from the atmosphere as usual in the years to come,
removing an important global buffer against pollution.
Even worse, rotting trees may release into the atmosphere as
much as five billion tons of CO2 in the coming years, almost
as much as the entire United States emitted from fossil fuel
use in 2009, with 5.4 billion tonnes.
“Having two events of this magnitude in such close
succession is extremely unusual, but is unfortunately
consistent with those climate models that project a grim
future for Amazonia,” said lead author Simon Lewis of the
University of Leeds.
Based on the impact of the dry spell on tree deaths in 2005,
the team projected that “Amazon forests will not absorb
their usual 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere in
both 2010 and 2011,” the study said.
In addition, “a further five billion tonnes of CO2 will be
released to the atmosphere over the coming years once the
trees that are killed by the new drought rot.”
However, co-author Paulo Brando, a Brazilian scientist, said
more research needs to be done to determine how many trees
died, and what their impact will be.
“Our results should be seen as an initial estimate. The
emissions estimates do not include those from forest fires,
which spread over extensive areas of the Amazon during hot
and dry years. These fires release large amounts of carbon
to the atmosphere,” he said.
“It could be that many of the drought-susceptible trees were
killed off in 2005, which would reduce the number killed
last year,” said Brando, who hails from Brazil’s Amazon
Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).
“On the other hand, the first drought may have weakened a
large number of trees so increasing the number dying in the
2010 dry season.”
Lewis said the main concern is that such events could be
creating a vicious cycle.
“If greenhouse gas emissions contribute to Amazon droughts
that in turn cause forests to release carbon, this feedback
loop would be extremely concerning,” he said.
“Two unusual and extreme droughts occurring within a decade
may largely offset the carbon absorbed by intact Amazon
forests during that time,” he added.
“If events like this happen more often, the Amazon
rainforest would reach a point where it shifts from being a
valuable carbon sink slowing climate change, to a major
source of greenhouse gases that could speed it up.”
|Pakistan braces for harsh winter
|By Jill McGivering
(BBC) – Utror nestles in the mountains in Swat in north-west
Pakistan and is bracing itself for winter.
The rocky peaks which surround it are already covered with
Soon the snow will fall in Utror as well – and, in the depth
of winter, it’s often 4-5m (13-16ft) deep.
This year, families here will find it hard to survive.
The flash floods which hit the region more than three months
ago destroyed local houses, damaged roads which connected
Utror to the outside world and ruined the main produce,
Zar Pari is a strong-faced matriarch and I met her inside
her traditional home, four rooms set round a closed
Her family of 11, spanning three generations, clustered
round. Behind me, a smoky wood burning stove provided the
“Our crops have all been washed away,” she told me. “And
look up at the ceiling. The roof was badly damaged and I
don’t have the money to repair it. The only food we have now
is brought to us by foreigners. We live on that.”
She was referring to the international aid supplied to Utror
and surrounding communities by the World Food Programme and
the US government.
Goods including sacks of flour, boxes of high-energy
biscuits and cooking oil have been flown in on a daily basis
since the flood by US military helicopters.
They have provided a lifeline. Helicopters are the only way
of getting aid quickly to this remote region, especially
since so many roads and bridges have been destroyed.
But all that is about to change. With the US military
operation having finished at the end of November, future aid
will travel by land. Many in the community are worried.
“Whatever food they’re giving us, we eat straightaway
because it’s all we have,” said Zar Pari’s elderly
“When they stop the helicopters, I don’t know how we’re
going to get food. All we can do is hope that God will help
About a third of the families in Utror have left, heading
for lower ground for the winter before the snow sets in.
Many had to walk because few vehicles can manage the broken
Some were driven away because they simply did not have
adequate shelter for the winter.
As many as 300 houses, mostly close to the river, were
destroyed by floodwater.
Reconstruction has started but it will clearly be a long,
|The internet has (kind of) run out of
|(CNN) – On Thursday February 4, the internet as we know
it ran out of space.
The nonprofit group that assigns addresses to service
providers announced that, on Thursday morning, it allocated
the last free internet addresses available from the current
pool used for most of the internet’s history.
“This is an historic day in the history of the internet, and
one we have been anticipating for quite some time,” said
Raul Echeberria, chairman of the Number Resource
But fear not. The group has seen this coming for more than a
decade and is ready with a new pool of addresses that it
expects to last, well, forever.
John Curran, CEO of the American Registry for Internet
Numbers, said the old pool of Internet Protocol addresses
had about 4.3 billion addresses.
“A billion sounds like a lot,” Curran said Thursday morning.
“But when you think that there’s nearly 7 billion people on
the planet, and you’re talking about two, three, four, five
addresses per person (for some web users), obviously 4.3
billion isn’t enough.”
The new pool, which has technically been ready since 1999,
has so many IP addresses that most non-mathematicians
probably don’t even know the number exists – 340
That’s 340 trillion groups of one trillion networks each.
Each network can handle a trillion devices. If the current
pool were the size of a golf ball, the new one would be the
size of the sun.
“I hope this is the only transition we ever have to do,”
Curran said most internet users won’t see any effect from
the transition. Businesses or others with their own websites
may want to contact their providers to make sure they’re
linked to a new address to ensure that future users can
visit as easily as possible.
Most people access websites by their domain names, or URLs.
Those are usually word-based, like CNN.com.
But the actual address of sites and devices is a string of
numbers and decimal points. The new system uses a much
longer string, and has numbers and other characters.
Internet addresses aren’t limited to websites; every
internet-connected device has a built-in IP address. Curran
said that the numbers started running out much more quickly
once smartphones and other mobile devices became more
popular around the world.
The Number Resource Organization is an umbrella group for
five regional nonprofits, including Curran’s, that parcel
out addresses. On Monday, it handed out two packets of
current addresses to the group in the Asian-Pacific region.
That triggered a plan to divide the last five packets
between the NRO’s five groups on Thursday.
A few addresses using the new address pool – it’s called
IPv6 and the current one is IPv4 – have already been
parcelled out to service providers who requested them.
Curran said it will probably be six to nine months before
the addresses already handed out are all used up.
|Luxury watchmakers follow the money to
|(AFP) HONG KONG – A measure of any Asian businessman is
the time he keeps and, far more importantly, the watch he
wears to mark it.
A handshake can be soft or firm but will likely soon be
followed by a glance to the wrist to see the watch wrapped
around it, especially in China.
A heavy slab of gold could be a marker that the person is
from an inland city. A more expensive, understated watch
could be a sign that they’re from the coastal cities of
Shanghai, Shenzhen or Beijing.
New money, in Chinese terms, versus old. Around 10 or 15
years ago, the coastal cities would also just go for gold; a
chunky watch with a meaty gold strap, says watch enthusiast
“In Asia probably more than in Europe or North America, a
watch is something that can hint the status,” the Shanghai
private equity investor, who has a $250,000 collection of 18
timepieces, told AFP.
“But many businessmen just wear a gold Rolex. Especially in
less developed cities inland, a gold Rolex is still a very
easy way to show other people that you’ve got money.”
Taste for fine watches has developed over time, says Qin,
who is just one of the many enthusiasts and serious
collectors in Asia that helped make 2010 the second best
year in the Swiss watchmaking industry’s history.
Not bad, in the middle of a severe global downturn.
Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss
Watch Industry, estimates export sales for brand new watches
for 2010 should be “slightly better” than the 2007 figure of
$16.5 billion. Only 2008 was better, at $18 billion.
Over half of those exports went to Asia.
“It is our first market,” he told AFP. “For the first eleven
months of 2010, 52 percent of our Swiss watch exports in
value went to Asia.
“Asian markets, except Japan, are generally growing faster
and stronger than other markets due to the positive economic
situation in these countries.”
Sales were up almost 55 percent in mainland China and almost
46 percent in Hong Kong.
The main driver behind the market is simple: hundreds of
thousands of Chinese people now have serious money to spend.