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Politics this week: 7th – 13th October 2006

October 12, 2006 Leave a comment

North Korea claimed to have carried out a nuclear test. Russia corroborated the claim, and other regional powers monitored an underground explosion consistent with it. The test was condemned around the world. Japan announced harsh sanctions and America and other countries also threatened them. China, the only country thought to have significant influence with North Korea, called the test a “brazen” act; it was unclear what response it might support. See articleE+

Pakistan condemned North Korea’s test as a “destabilising” act. It should know: Pakistan’s inaugural nuclear tests in 1998 caused international outrage. In 2004 Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear-arms programme, admitted to having illicitly furnished North Korea, Libya and Iran with nuclear technology.

The British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan held talks with Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf about the Taliban insurgents who have killed dozens of NATO troops in recent months. Some Taliban leaders are believed to be based in northern Pakistan with, some NATO officials claim, the approval of Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Scores of soldiers and Tamil rebels were killed in heavy fighting in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna peninsula. The conflict began the day after the government and rebels agreed a date for peace talks later this month.

Republicans were embroiled in the fallout from the Mark Foley scandal. As the ethics committee in the House of Representatives issued subpoenas in their investigation into the former congressman’s communications with teenage pages, Dennis Hastert, the speaker, ignored calls to resign for his handling of the affair. Opinion polls showed a sharp drop in support for the party in next month’s mid-term elections. See article

A small plane caused a security scare in New York when it crashed into an apartment building. The pilot, a player for the New York Yankees baseball team, and his flight instructor were killed.

AP
AP

In the only television debate in the California governor’s race, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the incumbent, slugged it out with Phil Angelides, his Democratic opponent. He said Mr Angelides had “joy” in his eyes when he spoke about raising taxes. Mr Angelides did his best to link Mr Schwarzenegger to George Bush, but with the governor far ahead in the polls the chatter probably made little difference.

The government announced plans to crack down on violations of the trade embargo on Cuba (sanctions-busting can carry a ten-year jail term). Critics said this was simply a way of propping up the Republican vote in southern Florida.

Raúl Castro, interim leader of Cuba, denied claims by American officials, reported in Time magazine, that his brother, President Fidel Castro, has terminal cancer and will never return to power. The president, who had intestinal surgery in July, was “getting better all the time”, he said.

In the first televised debate between the two remaining candidates in Brazil’s presidential election, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was put on the defensive by aggressive questioning from the centrist challenger, Geraldo Alckmin, about the corruption scandals that have dogged his four-year term in office.

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimated that 650,000 more people have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion than would have died if there had been no invasion. The Bush administration said the study was flawed. See article

The prospect of war in Somalia increased after several hundred Ethiopian troops were seen deep inside the country. They support the transitional government that has been losing out to the Islamists, who now control the capital and much of the country. See article

A ceasefire between Uganda’s government and a rebel group in the north, the Lord’s Resistance Army, seemed to be unravelling. Rebel leaders said they would not leave the bush to begin formal peace talks until warrants for their arrest for war crimes, issued by the International Criminal Court, were dropped.

Amnesty International said several thousand child soldiers continue to serve within armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, three years after a war was officially declared over.

A long-running feud worsened between the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, and his vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, who hopes to contest presidential elections next year. Mr Abubakar has been told to appear in court to answer corruption charges and a close aide was jailed for disclosing classified information.

EPA
EPA

Anna Politkovskaya, a campaigning Russian journalist who exposed official wrongdoing, was shot dead in Moscow. President Vladimir Putin, visiting Germany four days later, broke his silence on her killing to condemn it, but described her as a person of “minimal influence” in Russian political life. See article

Later, Mr Putin told his hosts that he wanted to make Germany into Europe’s “gas hub”, but he faced criticism for Russia’s human-rights record and treatment of its neighbours. See article

Georgia condemned Russia’s deportation of ethnic Georgians, as the two countries’ war of words, prompted by a spying row, continued.

The Czech minority government resigned after losing a vote of confidence, perpetuating a four-month-old political stalemate produced by a general election in June that resulted in a tie between left and right.

France is to ban smoking in all public places from next February, the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, announced. Cafés, nightclubs and restaurants must ban smoking by January 2008.

Jack Straw, Britain’s former foreign secretary, sparked a row when he said he preferred Muslim women not to wear the veil in face-to-face meetings. Some accused Mr Straw of trying to raise his profile because he wants to become deputy leader of the Labour Party. Mr Straw’s comments were supported by Gordon Brown, the chancellor and likely successor to Tony Blair. See article

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Business this week: 7th – 13th October 2006

October 12, 2006 Leave a comment

In what is being hailed as one of the most important deals involving internet businesses, Google said it was buying YouTube, which hosts videos posted by its online users, for $1.65 billion. YouTube began as a start-up a little more than 18 months ago, but now around 100m of its clips, ranging from segments of films and music to videos of strange vegetables, are viewed each day. Google, which has received mixed reviews of its own online video service, described the partnership with YouTube as “compelling”. See article

There was speculation about what happens next at General Motors after Jerry York quit the carmaker’s board. Mr York is an adviser to Kirk Kerkorian, an investor who owns 9.9% of the company, and was appointed to the board in February after unveiling a set of cost-cutting measures. But since then, relations have soured. Mr York’s departure came shortly after GM rejected an alliance with Renault-Nissan proposed by Mr Kerkorian, who is now considering all his options.

ImClone Systems announced the resignation of its chairman and a director, the first apparent victories for Carl Icahn in his campaign to shake-up the biomedical company’s board. The investor, who owns almost 14% of ImClone and is unhappy with its performance, is seeking to oust several other directors as well.

Airbus’s management woes continued when Christian Streiff stepped down as chief executive, with immediate effect, just three months after he was given the job. Appointed after a debacle surrounding delays to the company’s signature A380 super-jumbo, Mr Streiff fell out with EADS, Airbus’s parent company, over his plans to cut costs and improve performance. Louis Gallois, Mr Streiff’s replacement and a co-chief executive at EADS, pledged to continue with the restructuring effort. See article

Visa detailed its restructuring plans. The credit-card issuer said it will launch a public offering in about a year and separate its European unit from its other regional businesses. Currently controlled by a network of banks, Visa follows MasterCard by deciding to float on the stockmarket. See article

Gazprom, Russia’s gas monopolist, decided that it would develop the Shtokman natural-gas field on its own, a blow to five Western oil companies that had been shortlisted for a stake in the $20 billion Barents Sea project. The state-controlled firm also said priority in output from the field would be given to European pipeline deliveries over LNG shipments, a snub to America for dawdling over Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation.

RUSAL took the wraps off its much-trailed plan to merge with SUAL, its Russian compatriot, and take over the aluminium assets of Glencore, a Swiss commodities group. Valued at up to $30 billion, United Company RUSAL will produce around 4m tonnes of aluminium a year, vaulting it ahead of Alcoa as the world’s biggest aluminium company.

Cablevision Systems received a $7.9 billion buy-out offer from Charles and James Dolan, respectively its chairman and chief executive. The Dolan family controls Cablevision, which counts the New York Knicks basketball team among its assets, and has toyed with breaking up the firm.

PNC, a Pittsburgh bank, agreed to buy Mercantile Bankshares for $6 billion, so reaching into the lucrative market of metropolitan Washington, DC.

France’s Crédit Agricole agreed to buy 654 bank branches from Banca Intesa for euro6 billion ($7.5 billion). The acquisition arises from Intesa’s merger with Sanpaolo, an Italian compatriot; Agricole is Intesa’s largest shareholder.

There were more corporate casualties related to stock-option practices. The chief executive of job website Monster.com’s parent company stepped down saying he could no longer combine the job with a review into the company’s share-options policy. And the bosses of McAfee, a maker of anti-virus software, and CNET, an online technology magazine, resigned because of shenanigans stemming from backdated options.

It emerged that Industrial and Commercial Bank of China expects to raise around $22 billion from its forthcoming dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai. This would make the sale the world’s biggest-ever public offering. See article

Wheat prices continued to rise as a drought in Australia, the third-biggest producer of the grain, showed little sign of easing. With low stockpiles in America, analysts are expecting an upward tick in the price of foods such as bread, breakfast cereals and pasta.

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