|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
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
“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
“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
Despite high inflation, the central bank has refrained from
hiking its key lending rate due to Britain’s weak recovery
Inflation over 12 months has meanwhile held above the Bank
of England’s official target rate of 2.0 percent since
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
|Bin Laden fallout could force early
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
“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
|G8 leaders throw weight behind Arab
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
Rejecting Russian mediation, he added: “We are an African
country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be
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
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
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
|China drought affects more than 34
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
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
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
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
China could face a summer electricity shortage of 30
gigawatts – the most severe power shortfall since 2004, the
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
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.