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Politics this week: 9th – 14th December 2006

December 14, 2006 Leave a comment

Politics this week

Dec 13th 2006
From The Economist print edition

AFP
AFP

A stalemate continued between the Lebanese government and the opposition, whose supporters, more than 1m-strong, thronged the streets of central Beirut, demanding the removal of the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, and the creation of a national unity government in which Hizbullah, the main Shia party, would have a veto. See article

Leading Iraqi politicians criticised the report published last week by the Iraq Study Group co-chaired by James Baker, a former secretary of state. Iraq‘s president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said it undermined Iraq‘s sovereignty. The White House said George Bush would not unveil his new strategy until sometime in January. Sectarian violence continued with one lorry bomb in Baghdad killing at least 70 Shia labourers on December 12th. See article

Iran held a long-heralded conference questioning whether the Holocaust ever happened. One of the guests was David Duke, a former grand wizard of America’s Ku Klux Klan. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed the meeting and repeated his statement that the “Zionist regime” would soon disappear. See article

Fears grew that the Palestinians’ volatile mix of political and clan feuds could ignite an internecine conflict in Gaza. Gunmen shot dead a judge affiliated to Hamas, the ruling Islamist movement, two days after the killing of three young sons of a senior official of Fatah, the rival secular group.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a long-time former head of the Saudi intelligence service, resigned abruptly as ambassador to the United States, prompting speculation that, among other possibilities, he might replace his ailing brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal, as foreign minister.

Islamist leaders who control Somalia‘s capital, Mogadishu, and most of the southern and central parts of the country, said they would soon launch a “major attack” against Ethiopian soldiers who have been massing in the west.

A court in Ethiopia decided that Mengistu Haile Mariam, a Marxist dictator who ruled ruthlessly for 17 years until 1991, was guilty of genocide. Over 70 people were convicted with him, in a trial lasting 12 years. He was tried in absentia.

AFP
AFP

General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973-90 and who came to personify an era of brutal military dictatorship in South America, died of complications from a heart attack. His funeral took place at a military academy; there was no official mourning. See article

The outgoing United States Congress offered a crumb of comfort to four Andean countries on trade, renewing existing preferences for six months. Before ratifying free-trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, leaders of the new Democratic-controlled Congress have said they want extra labour-rights provisions attached to them.

Canada’s Parliament rejected by 175 votes to 123 a motion by the Conservative minority government that would have allowed legislation to ban gay marriage.

The Arctic could see the complete disappearance of all-year-round ice in a few decades, American scientists have said. Data presented to the American Geophysical Union showed that ice was recovering poorly from the summer melt.

The ethics committee of America’s House of Representatives issued its findings on the Mark Foley scandal. The report criticised Republicans in the chamber for failing to “exercise appropriate diligence”, but did not single out any individual for disciplinary action. Mr Foley’s resignation, over his lurid contacts with teenage pages in Congress, was no help to the Republicans during the recent mid-term elections.

The Democrats completed their rout of the Republicans in the mid-term elections by defeating a seven-term congressman in a run-off election in a Texas district. Meanwhile, William Jefferson, a congressman who is being investigated for bribery, won his run-off election in New Orleans.

Ahead of a European Union summit, EU foreign ministers agreed to suspend a large part of Turkey‘s membership negotiations. This is punishment for Turkey‘s failure to fulfil its obligation to open its ports and airports to (Greek) Cyprus. The Turks fumed about injustice, noting that the Europeans had not fulfilled on their promise to lift a trade embargo on northern Cyprus. See article

Investigations into the Litvinenko affair continued to broaden. British and Russian detectives interviewed two Russians who met Alexander Litvinenko on the day he died. Traces of polonium, the substance used to kill the former Russian agent, were found to have contaminated four people in Hamburg. See article

Voters in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, opted overwhelmingly for a constitution declaring their own sovereignty. But Azerbaijan continues to reject any notion of independence.

Transdniestria, a breakaway part of Moldova that is backed by Russia, re-elected its “president” to a fourth term.

In mayoral elections in Taiwan‘s biggest cities, Kaohsiung and Taipei, voters failed to give the stinging rebuke many expected to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of President Chen Shui-bian. Although the DPP‘s candidate lost the mayorship of Taipei to the opposition Kuomintang, the ruling party narrowly held on to Kaohsiung.

Reuters
Reuters

The electorate in the Indonesian province of Aceh had its first chance to vote directly for a governor and other officials. It was a landmark in the effort to bring an end to 29 years of secessionist war. Polls suggested that former independence activists had done well. See article

In Bangladesh, the president, Iajuddin Ahmed, who is also head of a caretaker government, ordered the army on to the streets of Dhaka and other cities to keep order ahead of elections due next month. Four members of his administration resigned in protest.

America’s Congress passed legislation allowing nuclear co-operation with India. The governments in Delhi and Washington, DC, declared it a great day for bilateral relations. But India’s main opposition party continued to object, as did its Communists and some nuclear scientists. See article

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Business this week: 9th – 14th December 2006

December 14, 2006 Leave a comment

Business this week

Dec 13th 2006
From The Economist print edition

The chairman of Gazprom said that the Russian state gas monopoly planned to buy around 50% of Sakhalin II, confirmation that Royal Dutch Shell had bowed to pressure by ceding control of the energy project in Russia‘s far east. The decision had looked inevitable once Russian authorities began to challenge the LNG and oil project in September on environmental grounds. Many analysts saw that as a means to help Gazprom force its way into the venture, demonstrating how determined the Kremlin is to secure state control of energy investments in Russia. See article

DP World, a company that is backed by the Dubai government, sold the American port assets it had tentatively acquired through its takeover of P&O to AIG Global Investment, a unit of the world’s biggest insurer. Earlier this year the news that DP World was to manage operations in several big American ports sparked a political backlash over security—even though Dubai is an ally of the United States—and when the P&O deal was threatened, DP World volunteered to find an American buyer. The new owner has little experience of port operations.

The gloves came off in the bidding war for Corus, an Anglo-Dutch steelmaker. CSN, a steel company based in Brazil, made a formal bid of £4.9 billion ($9.6 billion), trumping a sweetened offer from India’s Tata Steel that had been made just hours earlier.

Freeport-McMoRan’s $26 billion proposed takeover of Phelps Dodge was dealt a blow when it emerged that SAC Capital, a hedge fund managed by billionaire investor Steven Cohen, had increased its stake in Phelps Dodge to more than 5% with the aim of blocking the deal. The combination of Freeport and Phelps would create the world’s biggest copper miner, but SAC claims it would not be good for shareholder value.

In the biggest-ever acquisition in the Philippines, Mirant, an American power company based in Atlanta, sold its assets in the South-East Asian country to Tokyo Electric Power, Asia’s biggest utility, and Marubeni, a Japanese conglomerate, for $3.4 billion.

Hewlett-Packard agreed to pay $14.5m to settle a civil case brought against it by California over the boardroom spying scandal that rocked the company in the autumn. Patricia Dunn, HP‘s former chairman, and four others have been indicted on charges stemming from the methods used to uncover the source of a boardroom leak and pleaded not guilty. Other federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, are still probing.

Goldman Sachs kicked off what is expected to be another stellar earnings season on Wall Street. The investment firm’s net profit for the quarter ending November 24th rose by 93% compared with a year ago, to $3.15 billion, setting yet another Wall Street record.

NASDAQ formally launched its unsolicited £2.7 billion ($5.3 billion) bid for the London Stock Exchange and in the process lowered the level of the percentage of LSE shareholders that are required to agree to the offer. As it owns a stake of almost 29%, NASDAQ is now seeking the approval of just over a fifth of the LSE‘s other investors. They have until January 11th to decide.

A bid of A$10.9 billion ($8.6 billion) was formally made for Qantas Airways from a buy-out consortium. The Australian airline rejected the offer, but a deal is not off the table yet. The consortium has soothed Australians’ worries about the takeover of their iconic carrier by keeping within the foreign-ownership limits set by the government; Australia‘s Macquarie Bank is leading the bid. Separately, speculation mounted that United Airlines and Continental were discussing a merger, more proof that consolidation in the airline industry may be about to take off.

Sabre Holdings, the parent company of Travelocity.com, a travel reservations website, agreed to a buy-out valued at some $5 billion from two private-equity firms.

Britain’s Office of Fair Trading referred BAA to regulators because its “current structure” prevents cost savings being passed on to customers. The British airports operator, owned by a Spanish construction firm, has been criticised for its plans for Heathrow and its landing-slot charges.

America’s trade deficit in goods dropped in October to $65.1 billion, its lowest level since August 2005, reflecting a sharp fall in the price of oil. However, the deficit with China continued to grow and hit $24.4 billion. The news came as a high-level delegation, led by Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, prepared to visit Beijing for talks on trade.

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Yahoo Retread; Best Blogs of 2006

December 8, 2006 Leave a comment

Top Stories For the Week of December 4 – December 8

 Pity poor Lloyd Braun. Just a few years after being ousted from Disney, Yahoo’s man in Santa Monica charged with blending the Internet with Hollywood showmanship has been ousted in a reorg (via Hollywood Deadline Daily) that also kneecapped COO Dan Rosensweig. Valleywag  sees Braun’s ouster as an admission that Yahoo’s “Hollywood” strategy has failed, but back in October, BusinessWeek was already wondering whether Yahoo shouldn’t focus on being a tech company rather than a media company. GigaOM blogs that the exodus of Yahoo middle managers was a sure sign of internal malaise, and that CEO Terry Semel’s 1,500-word press release doesn’t indicate whether anything will really change at Yahoo. The reorg’s big winner is CFO Susan Decker, who NY Times and others now see as Semel’s heir-apparent.

In other personnel moves, blog emperor Jason Calacanis has joined Sequoia Capital as an  “entrepreneur in action,” a decoder-ring way of saying watch this space for my Sequoia-backed start-up, blogs TechCrunch. It’s a big rise in status for the abrasive Calacanis, since he profited nicely from selling Weblogs Inc. to AOL but had trouble finding respect there. He certainly doesn’t get it from A VC, who thinks Calacanis will last all of two months at Sequoia. And he doesn’t get it from SEO Blackhat either who scoffs at Calcanis’ assertion that SEO is bulls**t.

 Elsewhere in blog-land, Susan Mernit reports on continuing growth and new staffers at Om Malik’s OMniverse; NewTeeVee covers online video, Hollywood style. Paul Boutin reports that former Wag editor Nick Douglas has landed a thrice-weekly media column for the Huffington Post. Matt Craven announced the sale of the Blog Herald and that he will consult and do the occasional column. He also cites ten bloggers he respects–and six who just bug him. And Mr. Web 2.0 himself, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch will give up all-nighters and take a 2 month break and live with his parents, but not before going on the record to say Valleywag’s Nick Denton is evil.

It’s the end-of-the-year list season and Fimoculous kicks it off with the Best Blogs of 2006 That You (Maybe) Aren’t Reading, including design-focused Pulse Laser, affordable stuff-focused Josh Spear, and the landscape architecture mavens at Pruned. Pro photojournalists won’t have Reuters on their end-of-year lists, since it will partner with Yahoo to harvest amateur photo and video for undisclosed compensation, another nail in their profession’s coffin, blogs Deep Jive Interests. If all those  photogs decide to get tech jobs, they could do worse than try LinkedIn, which Next Net blogs is now up to 8 million members.

In politics, non-Hillary Dems are putting out feelers for 2008. Riehl World View blogs that Barack Obama has been courting George Soros-size donors, Wonkette thinks Joe Biden is still dull, Al Gore keeps raising his media profile by criticizing President Bush (via Think Progress) and, heaven help us all, Dennis Kucinich may run again (via Taegan Goddard). On the GOP side, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee may announce a run along with the release of his new book, but Right Wing News thinks John McCain is still clearly ahead of Rudolph Giuliani and Massachusetts‘ Mitt Romney.

And finally in entertainment, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston have split mirroring their movie The Break-Up. Vince is now just another Aniston Friend, writes Jossip, while Gawker blogs that Vaughn may already be cavorting with naked dancers in Budapest. In happier news, Britney is back on top, leading Yahoo’s list of most-searched terms as she has for 5 out of the last 6 years.

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Politics this week: 2nd – 8th December 2006

December 7, 2006 Leave a comment

A report on Iraq by a panel of foreign-policy experts headed by a former American secretary of state, James Baker, and a former congressman, Lee Hamilton, recommended that George Bush’s administration should start reducing the number of American troops there—bar unforeseen circumstances—by the spring of 2008. Their primary mission should be to bolster and train the Iraqi army. See article

The report also called urgently for a Middle East regional summit, including Syria and Iran and addressing such thorny issues as Palestine. Mr Bush did not say whether he would heed the report’s findings but said he would take them “very seriously”.

Robert Gates received the approval of the Senate to become America’s new defence secretary. Eyebrows were raised at Mr Gates’s stark assessment that America was not winning the war in Iraq, a contradiction to recent statements made by his boss.

Hundreds of humanitarian workers were evacuated from el-Fasher, capital of the Sudanese state of North Darfur, after clashes between government-backed janjaweed militias and rebels. The town is the hub of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign in the area and a UN-aid base. See article

According to preliminary results, Madagascar‘s incumbent president, Marc Ravalomanana, a dairy tycoon, won a new five-year mandate in a presidential poll on December 3rd. See article

Joseph Kabila was sworn in as Congo‘s first freely elected president in more than 40 years. He defeated his rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba, in a run-off election last month.

John Bolton resigned as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. The diplomat, who has had a prickly relationship with the world body, was given the job by Mr Bush on a temporary basis and needed to be approved by the Senate, an unlikely proposition given that the Democrats, who will soon control the chamber, blocked his permanent appointment last year. See article

Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker in the House of Representatives, tried to smooth things over with some of her colleagues after she bypassed the two most senior Democratic congressmen on the intelligence committee to appoint Silvestre Reyes as its chairman. The two senior contenders had been backed by, respectively, the party’s “Blue Dog” conservative coalition and the black caucus.

NASA, America’s space agency, revealed that it intends to build a permanent manned base on the moon. Construction work is planned to start in 2020, once a new breed of rockets to deliver people and components there has been designed and tested.

AP
AP

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela‘s left-wing president, won a resounding victory in his country’s presidential election. With nearly all votes counted, he had won 63% to 37% for Manuel Rosales, his social-democratic opponent. See article

General Augusto Pinochet, Chile‘s elderly former dictator, was rushed to hospital after a heart attack. Following surgery, he appeared to recover.

Felipe Calderón took office as Mexico’s president, and announced cuts in his own and other public-sector salaries to finance an increase in spending on health care and fighting crime. See article

Canada’s Liberal Party, the main opposition, chose Stéphane Dion, a former academic and cabinet minister from Quebec, as its leader in preference to Michael Ignatieff, a writer and journalist, and two other candidates. See article

The spat between Turkey and the European Union continued to reverberate around Europe. The leaders of France and Germany called for a further review in 15 months’ time. A last-ditch offer by Turkey to open one port and one airport to (Greek) Cyprus seemed unlikely to succeed. See article

Finland, which currently holds the European Union presidency, is to become the 16th out of 25 members to ratify the draft EU constitutional treaty. The German presidency early next year promises to find some way of reviving the treaty, which was rejected by French and Dutch voters in the summer of 2005.

France launched its much-hyped international television news channel, France 24. The aim of the channel, which is government-financed, is to challenge Anglo-American channels such as CNN and BBC World. France 24 will broadcast in French and English; later an Arabic channel will be added.

British police went to Moscow to investigate the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. But they were told by Russian authorities that they could neither make arrests of, nor seek to extradite, any Russian nationals. Traces of polonium, the radioactive substance used to kill Mr Litvinenko, were found at the British Embassy in Moscow. See article

Hundreds of people died in the Philippines as Typhoon Durian caused torrential mudslides from the slopes of Mayon volcano. The storm later went on to pound Vietnam‘s south coast. See article

A court in the Philippines capital Manila sentenced an American marine to up to 40 years in prison for raping a local woman last November. America and the Philippines squabbled over custody of the marine during his appeal. See article

AFP
AFP

Frank Bainimarama, commander of Fiji‘s armed forces, staged a coup against the government of Laisenia Qarase. Although the coup was widely condemned, John Howard, Australia‘s prime minister, ruled out military intervention. See article

The Labor Party, Australia‘s main opposition, voted out its leader, Kim Beazley, and replaced him with Kevin Rudd, the party’s foreign-affairs spokesman. See article

As prospects for a revival of the peace process continue to worsen, Sri Lanka‘s government announced sweeping anti-terrorism measures. But it stopped short of banning the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Despite a 2002 “ceasefire”, more than 3,400 people have died in fighting this year.

The opposition in Bangladesh called off its latest strike and blockade, which yet again had brought the capital, Dhaka, to a standstill in protest at alleged efforts to rig the election due in January. See article

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Business this week: 2nd – 8th December 2006

December 7, 2006 Leave a comment

Pfizer’s share price plunged after higher-than-expected mortality and side effects reported during a clinical trial led it to scrap a drug it had been developing since 1992. Torcetrapib boosted “good” cholesterol and had been touted by the company’s head of research as the biggest advance in cardiovascular medicine in years just two days before he pulled the plug. The decision leaves Pfizer without anything in the highly lucrative cholesterol-drug market to replace Lipitor when its patent expires in 2010. See article

Two of America’s most venerable financial institutions agreed to merge in a $16.5 billion deal. The combination of Bank of New York, which Alexander Hamilton helped to set up in 1784 before he became America’s first treasury secretary, and Mellon Financial, founded in Pittsburgh in 1869, creates the world’s biggest firm in the business of safeguarding and administering securities, with $16.6 trillion in assets under custody. See article

The merger of NYSE Group, owner of the New York Stock Exchange, and Euronext, operator of several European stockmarkets, came a step closer when it was approved by regulators in Europe. The deal has faced opposition from those who claim it will lead to American financial regulations being imposed on Europe, which NYSE and Euronext addressed by creating a regulatory structure to assure the independence of the European exchanges. The decisive hurdle for the deal is a vote by Euronext’s shareholders on December 19th.

Airbus launched the delayed A350XWB (bad reviews led to a redesign). The jet will enter service in 2013 and is crucial to troubled Airbus in its competition with Boeing. However, Airbus’s cheerier mood was dampened when Lufthansa, a reliable customer, decided not to add to its order of A380 super-jumbos and went with an updated version of Boeing’s 747 instead. See article

The Italian government confirmed it would sell part of its 49.9% stake in Alitalia. The size of the chunk it is selling, 30.1%, is bigger than had been indicated, but conditions were attached to the sale including job security at the airline.

NTL, a cable and telephone operator, abandoned its attempt to win control of ITV, Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster. NTL‘s plans were scuppered when BSkyB, a rival television company that is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, took a 17.9% stake in ITV. NTL complained to regulators about what it says are the “serious competition and public interest issues” of BSkyB’s stake.

Gallaher confirmed it had received a preliminary takeover approach, speculated to be from Japan Tobacco. The British tobacco firm, valued at some $15 billion, has expanded its business in Russia and is an attractive target for cigarette-makers wishing to peddle their wares outside America and Europe, where smoking is on the decline.

The Hard Rock chain of restaurants and casinos was sold to a subsidiary of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pioneered the opening of casinos on Native American land, for $965m. Rank, the sellers of Hard Rock, want to concentrate on their gambling businesses in Britain.

The chief executive of Yahoo! restructured its senior management and created a new unit that will focus entirely on advertising sales. Concern about the company’s future revenue from advertising is one reason behind the 30% fall in its share price this year. The management shake-up was nicknamed “Project Soufflé”.

Meanwhile, a new venture was unveiled between Yahoo! and Reuters to use amateur images from events such as the Asian tsunami and London tube bombings in online news reports. Material uploaded to You Witness will still be seen by editors.

LSI Logic, a chipmaker that specialises in semiconductors for DVD recorders, data storage devices and personal music players, said it would buy Agere Systems, an integrated-circuit components company, for $4 billion. The deal gives LSI a presence in the market for mobile-phone chips.

The fall in America’s housing market hurt profit at Toll Brothers, a builder of luxury homes, which reported that net income had dropped by 44% in the three months to October 31st compared with a year earlier. However, Toll Brothers’ share price rose after its boss said the market was “dancing on the bottom or slightly above” and appeared to be stabilising.

New orders for manufactured goods at America’s factories dropped by 4.7% in October compared with the previous month, the biggest fall since July 2000. Orders for durable goods fell by 8.2%.

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Pocket YouTube; TechCrunch Secrets; Bad Ideas 2.0

December 1, 2006 Leave a comment

Pocket video is coming – but PaidContent and others are panning the new YouTube/Verizon Wireless deal which gives you a limited, prescreened number of videos plus the ability to upload footage from your phone. You’d have to be stupid to pay $15 a month for the privilege, gripes Mark Evans, and A VC chimes in about the deal’s non-free, non-open, non-community nature–in a word, it’s lame.

 Online video is also robbing TV of its viewership–at least in Britain, writes Bloggers Blog, though just 9 percent of respondents are regular online-video watchers. MobiTV is positioned to take advantage of the migration to online video since it’s close to offering a kind of online cable-TV subscription, blogs TechCrunch. But can YouTube or anyone can make money from online video, since losing control over distribution may mean losing control over monetization wonders Publishing 2.0.

Speaking of potentially shaky cash flow, Monkey Bites covers Break.com, a guy-oriented site that will now pay video contributors $400–$2,000 in an effort to lure eyeballs away from YouTube. Break’s money is good: GigaOM blogs they’ve already paid members over $300,000 to date, and competitor Metacafe is also paying out according to a slightly different model. Based on head-to-head competition, Chris Pirillo thinks YouTube will get the most eyeballs, Revver the most revenue, and Google Video the least everything.

 In blog news, editor Marshall Kirkpatrick left TechCrunch to be a consultant, but not before sharing some secrets for obtaining good news leads. Micro Persuasion adds that Kirkpatrick’s tips don’t mention PR people like himself–meaning PR departments should join the conversation by giving news editors good blog feeds, not just press releases.

 The Bubble is indeed back, at least in Sweden, where Boo.com awaits relaunch. Will they still sell fashionable clothes–or just crash and burn again, asks Blog Herald? AllAdvantage is also back–as the unfortunately named Agloco, blogs ValleyWag–and at least they’re more honest about being a pyramid scheme.

Honesty is breaking out all over politics too: MSNBC and NBC have finally started calling the Iraq civil war a “civil war,” though Think Progress blogs that Fox News, the Washington Post, The New York Times and others still use weasel words like “sectarian violence.” U.S. Marines in western Iraq don’t care what you call the insurgency–they just know they can’t defeat it, writes Outside the Beltway. And those  imams who were taken off the plane in Minneapolis call US Air’s actions racial profiling, but they were doing more than just saying their prayers, blogs Stop the ACLU, shunning their ticketed seats to take up others in a 9/11-like pattern and requesting seatbelt extenders that they didn’t need or use. Then there’s the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, which apparently can’t get the Bush twins on a plane fast enough, citing security considerations, according to the Huffington Post.

 Finally in entertainment, it’s Groundhog Day among the famous this week: Snoop Dogg gets arrested on weapons and drug charges again; Pamela Anderson set course for another divorce (via Bricks and Stones); and Madonna’s still struggling to adopt a needy kid from Malawi rather than America.

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Politics this week: 25th November – 1st December 2006

December 1, 2006 Leave a comment

Politics this week

Nov 30th 2006
From The Economist print edition

AP
AP

George Bush flew to Jordan’s capital, Amman, to hold talks with Iraq‘s beleaguered prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. Mr Bush described the meeting, aimed at stemming Iraq‘s burgeoning civil war, as productive, and gave assurances that America was not trying to find a “graceful exit”. Such talk in Washington, he said, “just simply has no realism to it”. See article

A surprise truce between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip held good, despite the firing of rockets by a Palestinian group that rejected the deal. Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said he was ready for talks with a moderate Palestinian government, for a prisoner exchange and for territorial compromise on the West Bank. See article

A looming prospect of war between Ethiopia and Somalia was reduced, for the moment, by floods in the region. Somalia‘s Islamists continued to gain ground against the country’s internationally recognised but feeble transitional government, which is backed by Ethiopia. See article

The Supreme Court in Congo ratified the results of the country’s presidential election, in which the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, handily beat his chief rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba, in a run-off. Mr Bemba accepted his defeat, so reducing the chances of civil strife.

Nigeria‘s vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, put an end to months of speculation by saying he would run for president next year, despite opposition from Olusegun Obasanjo, the current president. The high court in Lagos ruled that two reports alleging corruption and fraud against Mr Abubakar had no legal foundation.

On a four-day visit to Turkey, the pope told the Turkish prime minister that he supported Turkish aspirations to join the European Union. The pope also met the Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul and called for greater tolerance of Christians in Turkey. See article

After Turkey refused to meet a European Union deadline of next week for opening up its ports to trade with (Greek) Cyprus, the European Commission proposed the suspension of eight of the 35 chapters of membership negotiations. See article

AFP
AFP

Police in London began retracing the events that led to the apparent radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent. Before he died, Mr Litvinenko accused Russia‘s president, Vladimir Putin, of orchestrating his demise, something the Kremlin vigorously denied. See article

Silvio Berlusconi was taken to hospital after he collapsed while speaking at a conference, reviving speculation about how much longer the 70-year-old former prime minister of Italy can lead its centre-right opposition.

As expected, Nicolas Sarkozy declared his candidacy for the French presidential election. The interior minister has long been favourite for the centre-right nomination.

A draft European Parliament report found new evidence that several European governments knew of the CIA programme of “extraordinary renditions” of terrorism suspects, and of secret prisons the CIA ran in central Europe.

At the NATO summit in Riga some countries were persuaded to relax restrictions on their troops’ exposure to fighting in Afghanistan. Some agreed to ease curbs preventing their soldiers in the country moving to the south, scene of the fiercest fighting. Meanwhile, the summit asked Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro to begin partnership-for-peace negotiations with NATO. See article

A report on alleged sanctions-busting in Iraq by the AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board) found it had paid $221m in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime. But it cleared ministers and civil servants of complicity. See article

The International Committee of the Red Cross revealed that the government of Myanmar had ordered it to close its five field offices in the country. This, it said, had the effect of making its humanitarian work in Myanmar impossible. See article

India’s coal minister, Shibu Soren, and four others were found guilty of murdering Mr Soren’s secretary in 1994. Prosecutors said the victim had been blackmailing Mr Soren about alleged corruption.

America’s Supreme Court listened to arguments in what is seen as the most important case it has yet heard on climate change. A group of 12 states wants the federal government to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicles. It is reluctant, saying the effects on global warming are not fully understood. See article

New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the death of an unarmed black man in a hail of police bullets outside a nightclub was “unacceptable”. Mr Bloomberg has been praised, so far, for his sensitive handling of the incident, a stark contrast to the criticism heaped on Rudy Giuliani after police shot an unarmed African immigrant in 1999.

After considering a bid for the White House, Bill Frist, who is retiring as the Republican leader in the Senate, said he would not run in 2008.

Felipe Calderón, Mexico‘s new president, completed his cabinet, naming Francisco Ramírez Acuña, a right-wing former governor of Jalisco, as his interior minister. His appointment dismayed human-rights groups. Many of the other ministers are modernising technocrats, some with links to the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

AFP
AFP

Rafael Correa, a Christian left-winger, won Ecuador‘s presidential election by a 14-point margin over Álvaro Noboa, a banana-exporting billionaire. Mr Correa rattled financial markets with talk of debt restructuring despite his country’s oil windfall. See article

Canada’s Parliament overwhelmingly gave its approval to a motion proposed by Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, to recognise French-speaking Quebec as “a nation within a united Canada”. See article

In a victory for Bolivia‘s socialist president, Evo Morales, the country’s Senate approved a land-reform law despite an earlier walkout by the conservative opposition aimed at preventing a quorum.

Cuba‘s president, Fidel Castro, said that he had not recovered sufficiently from stomach surgery to take part in delayed celebrations to mark his 80th birthday.

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