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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

Categories: Uncategorized

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%.

Categories: Uncategorized