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Bleak years ahead for Britain
Says BoE chief economist

LONDON (AFP) – Britain faces a “bleak time” over the next two years due to low economic growth, the Bank of England’s chief economist said Saturday.
Spencer Dale indicated that interest rates would rise this year. They were held at a record low of 0.50 percent this month, as anaemic British growth offset surging inflation. Britain’s central bank has held the rate for more than two years.
“I think the next year or two will be a relatively bleak time. I think we have relatively hard times ahead,” Dale told the BBC.
“I am not confident about the strength of the recovery, particularly in terms of the weakness we see in the household sector and the implications that may have for consumption.
“I am even more worried about inflation and the risk that we may see price pressures from the rest of the world continue to push up and the high levels of inflation we have seen in the UK persist for longer than we otherwise expect.”
Bank of England policymakers voted 6-3 this month to keep its key interest rate at 0.50 percent. Dale voted for a 0.25 percent rise.
Despite high inflation, the central bank has refrained from hiking its key lending rate due to Britain’s weak recovery from recession.
Inflation over 12 months has meanwhile held above the Bank of England’s official target rate of 2.0 percent since December 2009.
British annual inflation soared to 4.5 percent in April, hitting a two-and-a-half-year high and stoking the prospect of a rate hike.
“The level of interest rates at the moment is at an extraordinary low level,” Dale said.
“At some point, I do expect interest rates to rise, but how quickly and how much, I really can’t say.”
He added: “I am worried about growth remaining feeble and I am also worried about inflation remaining high – and if you like, that’s the dilemma facing the MPC (monetary policy committee) at the moment – trying to balance these two very significant risks.”

Bin Laden fallout could force early Pakistan polls

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – The embarrassing revelation that Osama bin Laden was living in a military garrison town and the fallout from the US raid that killed him are threatening to bring down Pakistan’s government and force early elections.
Since Pakistanis woke up to the shocking news from the city of Abbottabad on May 2, confidence in the country’s civilian government and military has crumbled, both at home and abroad.
If the masses showed little inclination to mourn the Al-Qaeda leader’s death or denounce the American raid, they have loudly lamented the humiliating failures of their much-garlanded military to root him out on their doorstep.
In a nadir some likened to 1971, when a third of the country broke away to form Bangladesh, analysts said civilian politicians might at last have a chance to put the military in their place and assert their grip on power.
Criticism of the military has been nearly unprecedented over suspicions it was incompetent or complicit in hiding bin Laden, clueless that Americans had invaded their airspace and powerless to stop them.
Compounding the situation, a series of spectacular bomb attacks, claimed by the Taliban to avenge the killing, have fuelled concerns that the military is too weak to protect itself, let alone the country.
“The deteriorating security situation may lead to collapse of the government,” said political analyst Khurram Abbas from the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT). The current administration’s five-year term is due to end in 2013.
Exploiting the fallout are main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who opinion polls predict would win any snap election, and former cricket hero turned politician Imran Khan.
Their knives have been out for the government, painting the Pakistan People’s Party-led administration as a puppet dancing to Washington’s tune, though they have not outlined how they would root out Islamist extremism.
“The Abbottabad incident offered it a chance to establish its hold on security and other matters but it failed,” said Mutahir Sheikh, international relations professor at Karachi University.
“The prime minister’s priority is to complete his five-year term. But he has no foreign minister, his interior minister is not clear in his policy and the internal security is continuously deteriorating.
“People are pinning hopes on Nawaz Sharif. If he can take a stand and boycott parliament there is possibility of fresh elections,” said Sheikh.
It took 10 hours for members of parliament to agree to a joint statement on May 13 when army chief Ashfaq Kayani and intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha briefed parliamentarians on the bin Laden attack.
It demanded no repeat of the US raid, despite the White House reserving the right to do so, and an end to US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal northwest – both impossible for the aid-dependent government to implement.
Sharif’s party (PML-N) spokesman, Siddiqul Farooq, told AFP that if the government “fails or violates” the resolution “we may say a fresh mandate is needed.”
“We want the resolution enforced. The nation wants those found guilty of criminal negligence or security lapses to be penalised,” he told AFP.

Missouri tornado toll rises to 132

JOPLIN, Missouri (AFP) – The death toll from one of the worst tornadoes ever to hit the United States has risen to 132 as crews continued to search the rubble for survivors and victims.
Five days after the massive tornado cut a miles-long (kilometres-long) path of destruction through this town of 50,000, officials have managed to pare down the list of the missing to 156 from 232.
But for those families who are still waiting for news, the wait has been agonizing and many have mounted their own searches.
Teenager Will Norton was sucked from his father’s Hummer as they drove home from his high school graduation.
Dozens of people have been helping his family search the debris field – even heading out in a small plane to scan areas farther afield – but they have had no luck.
“We are still looking. We have not found Will but we are still looking,” his aunt Tracey Presslor posted Friday evening on a Facebook page set up to organise search efforts that has garnered mass outpourings of support.
“Keep the faith. He’s out there somewhere. God bless everyone. We feel the love and we send it,” she wrote.
Friday’s steep decline in the number of missing persons came after the Missouri Department of Public Safety published a list of 232 persons unaccounted for and discovered that 90 people on the list were in fact alive, spokesman Seth Bundy said.
Bundy said an additional six people on the list were determined to have died, two were duplicate names, and an additional 22 missing persons reports were filed, bringing the official number of missing to 156.
Officials said many of the missing were likely to be among the dead, but a full accounting is impossible until next of kin are notified.

Bomb kills four in northwest Pakistan
KHAR, Pakistan (AFP) – A bomb blast at a busy marketplace in a restive tribal area in northwest Pakistan on Saturday killed at least four people and wounded 15 others, officials said.
The blast took place at Pasht bazaar in Salarzai region, some 35 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Khar, the main town of the restive Bajaur tribal district, which borders Afghanistan.
“At least four people were killed and 15 others were wounded,” local government official Saad Mohammad told AFP.
Mohammad said that it was not immediately clear what type of bomb it was or who the target could have been, but Taliban militants have targeted members of the Salarzai tribe because they raised a village force to drive them out of region.
G8 leaders throw weight behind Arab Spring

DEAUVILLE (AFP) – The G8 world powers threw their weight behind the Arab Spring on Friday, intensifying the pressure on Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi and pledging billions for fledgling democracies.
The West’s drive to oust Kadhafi was boosted on both the military front – with France and Britain vowing a “new phase” of operations – and on the diplomatic, with Russia joining calls for him to step down and head into exile.
“The world community does not see him as the Libyan leader,” President Dmitry Medvedev said, in a turnaround in Russia’s stance that was welcomed by summit host Nicolas Sarkozy of France and White House officials.
If Kadhafi were to go “this would be useful for... the Libyan people,” Medvedev added.
“Then one can discuss how it can be done, which country could take him and on what terms, what he could retain and what he must lose.”
The Libyan regime retorted that any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.
“The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions,” said Libya’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaaim.
Rejecting Russian mediation, he added: “We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected.”
African leaders at a summit in Addis Ababa on Thursday called for an end to NATO air strikes on Libya to pave the way for a political solution.
Closing the two-day G8 meeting, Sarkozy was able to promise the Arab world $40 billion (28 billion euros) for development and democracy, from a range of international offers of aid and loans.
“Democracy lays the best path to peace, stability, prosperity, shared growth and development,” the leaders declared, after meeting with prime ministers from post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt seeking support for reform.
Presidents and prime ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States had met in the French resort of Deauville.
They took a tough line with the regimes resisting pro-democratic revolts, warning Libya and Syria to halt the violent repression of their own peoples.

US detainee freed by N. Korea arrives in Seoul

SEOUL (AFP) – An American citizen released after six months’ detention in North Korea arrived in Seoul Saturday after he left the communist state with a US delegation, South Korean news media said.
Eddie Jun Yong-Su, a US citizen of a Korean ancestry, came to Seoul via Beijing after he flew out of Pyongyang with the US group led by Robert King, US special envoy for human rights and humanitarian issues.
“I have to go to hospital now. I’ll have a chance to talk to you later,” Jun told journalists upon arrival at Seoul’s Incheon airport. He was then whisked away in a mini bus, Yonhap news agency said.
Wearing a black zip-up jacket and black trousers, he looked in relatively good health and walked without help despite his detention in the North since November on unspecified charges, Yonhap said.
Earlier on Saturday, King and Jun arrived at Beijing aboard a flight of Air Koryo, the North’s state airline.
“We are very happy to report that Jun, the American citizen being held in Pyongyang, has been released,” Yonhap quoted King as saying on arrival in Beijing. “We are also delighted that in a day or two he will be back with his wife and family.” Jun, a California-based businessman, had been detained for apparent missionary activities in the hardline communist state.

China drought affects more than 34 million people

BEIJING (AFP) – A debilitating drought along China’s Yangtze river has affected more than 34 million people, leaving farmers and livestock without water and parching a major grain belt, the government said Saturday.
More than 4.23 million people are having difficulty finding adequate drinking supplies, while more than five million are in need of assistance to overcome the drought, the Civil Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
“The special characteristic of this drought disaster is that it has persisted a long time,” the ministry said.
“Secondly the losses to the agricultural and breeding industries have been severe... while drinking water for people and livestock have been seriously impacted.”
Rainfall levels from January to April in the drainage basin of the Yangtze, China’s longest and most economically important river, have been up to 60 percent lower than average levels of the past 50 years, it said.
“Large areas of farmland have been severely parched and cracking, making it impossible for early rice to take root,” the ministry said.
The agricultural impact is likely to further alarm officials already trying to tame high prices, including grain prices which have been rising steadily on global markets in recent months.
Water levels in lakes and reservoirs mostly in the provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan are close to historic lows, decimating fish farms, state press reports said.
The national flood and drought control authority has ordered the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, to increase its discharge of water to alleviate the regions downstream, the China Daily said.
“If the drought continues and there is no rainfall before June 10, the dam will lose the capacity to relieve the drought,” the paper quoted Wang Hai, an official with the corporation that oversees the dam, as saying.
According to the state meteorological station, no rains are predicted in the region until June 2.
Already the Three Gorges Dam has had to cut back on electrical production due to the drought, while shipping along the river below the dam has been hampered due to the low water levels, media reports said.
The State Grid, China’s state-owned power distributor, reportedly said this week that 10 of its provincial-level power grids were suffering severe shortages due to the drought’s impact on hydroelectric generation, including Shanghai and the heavily populated southwestern Chongqing region.
China could face a summer electricity shortage of 30 gigawatts – the most severe power shortfall since 2004, the company said.
China’s north has been suffering from a lack of rain for nearly 15 years – largely attributed to global warming – while the south, especially the Yangtze river basin, has been prone to flooding during the annual summer rainy season.
Just last summer, sustained torrential rainfall across the region caused widespread flooding and landslides leading to the deaths of more than 3,000 people, state press reported.