Nation 2  


Jordan Islamists in ‘frank’ talks with king
(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 said.
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 reform.
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 withdrawal

(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 2011.
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, Austin said.
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 two weeks.
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 “adequate.”
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 troops.
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 scandals

(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 president
(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 president.
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 its domination.
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 increasing

(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 operatives.”
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 more dangerous.”
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 Cambodia border
(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 civilian dead.
“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 Kaewkumnerd.
In a statement, the Cambodian government accused Thai troops of “firing mortar rounds into Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province”.
A Cambodian military commander who did not wish to be named said that one Thai soldier had been captured in the morning skirmishes.
Clashes between the neighbours erupted for the first time in more than a year on Friday as simmering border tensions boiled over.
Six Thai and at least four Cambodian soldiers were also injured in the first bout of fighting, and four Thai troops were captured.
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 violence.
“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 evacuated.
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 Heritage status.
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 Shirts”.
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 Super Bowl
(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 countries.
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’ submission.
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 deal.
“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 recent study.
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 day.
“We want the government to produce more electricity as soon as possible,” Kantipur News head Tirtha Koirala told the BBC.
“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,” Koirala said.
“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, he added.
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 private sectors.
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 or conditions.
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 services.
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 Lenin go.
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 altogether.
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 this week.
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 Goyena.
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 children

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 scientists
(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 Science.
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 snow.
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, potatoes.
Zar Pari is a strong-faced matriarch and I met her inside her traditional home, four rooms set round a closed courtyard.
Her family of 11, spanning three generations, clustered round. Behind me, a smoky wood burning stove provided the only heat.
“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 neighbour.
“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 us.”
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 roads.
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, slow process.
The internet has (kind of) run out of space
(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 Organisation.
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 undecillion.
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.
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 Asia
(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 Harry Qin.
“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.