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    16 February 2009

    Asnycnow15 World News February 16th


    Bird Flu Has Hong Kong. Legislators are concerned that the latest bird flu scare on the mainland could lead to an epidemic on a scale comparable to SARS in 2003. There’ve been eight reported cases of human bird flu so far this year in different parts of China. Civic Party leader Audrey Eu accused the Hong Kong government of not taking enough precautionary measures. She said answers given by the Secretary for Food and Health, York Chow, at a meeting were merely recitations of existing policies against bird flu.

    Cops Suspect Man Was Eaten By Tribe. Six Indians from a tribe in the Brazilian Amazon have been accused of cannibalism. Brazilian police charged the members of the Kulina tribe with murdering Ocelio Alves de Carvalho, a 21-year-old local farmer, and eating parts of his body.  

    According to the police, the body was quartered and then carved up, with more than 100 cuts. Several organs, including his heart, brain and liver, were missing when the body was found. 

    Danish Criminals Take Toll On Blood. People all over Denmark are getting phone calls from their local blood banks because of a war in the criminal underworld. A gang war has caused a great deal of shootings and stabbings in the last few months, and so the Danish blood bank is in dire need of 600 extra blood donors in order to save the victims in the ongoing fighting. 

    Sports
    NBA. Everyone knows what’s good about the league right now. Kobe and LeBron are unstoppable, the Celtics are the best defensive team again and the Spurs are shockingly back in the mix.

    On the third stop on our preseason tour through the American League East, we check in with the Toronto Blue Jays. Warning: If you don’t like sad stories, this might not be the column for you.

    There was a little humble pie dished out at the T.D. Banknorth Garden this past week. The World Champion Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins, possessors of the NHL's best record, hosted some fellow contenders at home in the last seven days, and lets just say that the results left something to be desired.

    Business 

    Munich Re, the world’s biggest reinsurer, said global insurance rates need to rise to reflect a projected increase in losses related to natural disasters.

    General Motors Corp., the biggest U.S. carmaker, should sell its Opel and Vauxhall brands because plans to keep and reorganize the European units put them at risk of closure, the company’s labor leaders in the region said.

    Copyright © 2009 Asnycnow15 News/English. [http://twitter.com/Asnycnow15News]

    Chavez Wins Term Limit Vote, Opens Campaign for 2012

    BLOOMBERG.   Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez scored a victory in his drive to stay in power as voters scrapped constitutional term limits that would have forced him from office in 2013.

    The amendment carried with 54.4 percent of the vote to 45.6 percent, according to preliminary results, said Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council. The referendum marked the second time in 14 months Chavez sought to remove the limits that kept him from seeking unlimited re-election.

    “I’ve received an injection of patriotic fire,” Chavez , 54, said last night in a victory speech from a balcony at the Miraflores presidential palace as thousands of supporters cheered and waved flags below. “I’ll dedicate myself for life to the service of the Venezuelan people.”

    Chavez now has a chance to extend his drive to turn the oil- exporting country into a socialist state, which he says will take until 2019. Without a constitutional check on his power, the former army lieutenant colonel may stay in office indefinitely, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said.

    Chavez already controls Venezuela’s energy wealth through the state oil company, and holds sway over congress and the courts through supporters and appointees, Lopez said in an interview.


    Fireworks


    The president, who celebrated 10 years in office on Feb. 2, announced he’ll be a candidate in 2012 as fireworks were launched across Caracas. Chavez has spent billions of dollars in oil revenue to offer free health care, subsidized groceries and reading programs for the poor.

    “He’s clearly going to be very emboldened,” said Michael Shifter, vice president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. “He’s going to move ahead in radical fashion with his revolution.”

    Voters narrowly rejected removing term limits in 2007, Chavez ’s first electoral defeat since winning the presidency in 1998.

    In the referendum, Chavez regained some of the support he lost in 2007, when the country suffered widespread food shortages. More than 6 million votes were cast in favor of the amendment yesterday, 1.6 million more than in the last referendum. Still, that’s short of the 7.3 million votes Chavez won in the 2006 presidential elections.

    The opposition garnered 5 million votes yesterday, an increase of about 535,000 over 2007.


    ‘Passed the Barrier’


    “We’ve passed the barrier of 5 million,” opposition leader Omar Barboza said in comments broadcast by Globovision. “We’ll continue with our proposal of a different country. Sooner or later we’ll triumph.”

    Chavez , known for his confrontational style, adopted a conciliatory tone toward the opposition in a news conference yesterday, and on the day before the vote offered to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama anytime. He regularly accused former President George W. Bush of aiding Venezuela’s opposition, and last year expelled the U.S. ambassador in Caracas.

    Chavez rushed to hold the referendum ahead of a looming economic recession. He proposed the vote the day after regional elections in November when the opposition won the three biggest states and Caracas, and instructed the National Assembly to act quickly.

    Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., depends on oil for 93 percent of export revenue and half the government’s budget. Crude prices have plunged 74 percent since touching a record in July.


    Recession, Inflation


    Caracas-based Banco Mercantil said in a Feb. 3 report that oil income will fall 66 percent this year, and Morgan Stanley forecasts the economy will contract 1 percent, even as inflation accelerates. Consumer prices rose 30.7 percent in January from a year ago, the fastest pace in Latin America.

    The prospect of re-election may push Chavez to take “needed but unpopular” measures now to deal with the economy, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Alberto Ramos wrote in a note to investors yesterday, citing devaluation of the currency, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar, and less government spending.

    New taxes and higher gasoline prices are also now more likely, Alejandro Grisanti, an economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York, said today in a research note.

    The price on the government’s benchmark bonds due in 2027 was quoted at 51.42 cents on the dollar in European trading at 3:24 p.m. in London, down from 51.90 cents on Feb. 13. The yield on the debt rose 0.121 basis points to 18.65 percent, almost double the 9.34 percent yield from a year ago. A basis point is equivalent to 0.01 percentage point.


    Unpaid Bills


    There are already signs the government is low on cash. Chavez ordered the central bank to transfer $12 billion of reserves into a development fund last month. Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said yesterday the government may back out of a planned takeover of Banco de Venezuela, the local unit of Spain’s Banco Santander SA.

    Service providers to Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company, have complained of unpaid bills and begun to take drilling rigs out of service.

    Still, Chavez may view the victory as a renewed mandate to squeeze the private sector, Ramos said.

    After his 2006 re-election, he took advantage of a five-year run-up in oil prices for nationalizations. He took over the biggest telecommunications and electricity companies, a steel mill and the cement industry. He also forced foreign oil companies Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and Repsol YPF into joint ventures as minority partners.

    The collapse of oil prices means hard choices lay ahead, said Carlos Luna, a professor of international relations at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.

    “He’s going to have a clock running against him,” Luna said. “People are expecting big things from him at the exact moment that the economic crisis is knocking at the door.”Copyright © 2009 Asnycnow15 News/English
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    Pakistan Acknowledges Mumbai-Attack Link, Charges 8


    BLOOMBERG. Pakistan acknowledged for the first time that its territory was used to plot the November terrorist attack in Mumbai and said eight suspects have been charged.

    Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s comments today reverse his government’s denials of any significant Pakistani role in the Nov. 26-29 assault on India’s financial center. Terrorism and cyber-crime charges were filed today against the suspects, who are accused of helping 10 gunmen attack hotels and other targets, Malik said.

    In India, whose officials have said Pakistan was stalling in the Mumbai investigation, the Foreign Ministry called Malik’s announcement “a positive development.” The ministry said in a statement that “we will share whatever we can” after Malik said Pakistan needs more information from India.

    India handed Pakistan and other governments a dossier on Jan. 5 that cited intercepted communications and other evidence to identify the banned Pakistan-based guerrilla group Lashkar-e- Taiba as the author of the attack. India demanded that the plotters be extradited and repeated today that “we would also expect that the government of Pakistan take credible steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan.”

    “The fact that they are admitting some culpability by Pakistanis is a huge start,” said Vikram Sood, a retired Indian intelligence chief who leads a New Delhi institute on international affairs. “But there still are very big questions: Why has Pakistan not made the ban on Lashkar-e-Taiba effective?”


    U.S.Pressure


    The U.S. government has pressed Pakistan to cooperate in prosecuting the plotters and Malik stressed that his government is doing so. “Our sincerity is pure, we have gone the extra mile,” he said at a press conference in Islamabad.

    Pakistan announced on Feb. 9 it would charge the suspects, after a meeting of its cabinet committee on defense, which includes Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the chiefs of the politically powerful armed forces. That announcement came the day before U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke arrived for his first visit to Pakistan as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the region.

    As Malik commented at the news conference, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anshuman Gaur said officials were watching him live on several Indian television networks -- a sign of the importance of Pakistan’s response to relations between the neighboring countries.

    “People are watching it not only here at the ministry, but right across the country,” Gaur said.


    Banned in 2002


    While Pakistan formally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002, the group continued to operate under the name Jamaat ud-Dawa, according to independent analysts and a United Nations counter- terrorism committee. Pakistan appears likely to be “seriously constrained” from any broad crackdown on Lashkar-e-Taiba by its military and intelligence agencies, the Washington-based RAND Corp. said in a Jan. 19 report.

    India’s allegation that Lashkar carried out the Mumbai assault is sensitive for Pakistan’s military, whose Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate has backed Lashkar and other Islamic groups as proxy forces in Kashmir, the territory both countries claim. While Pakistan formally denies supporting the groups, independent Pakistani and U.S. scholars, retired officials and Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, have confirmed the policy.


    Indian Help Sought


    Malik said Pakistan’s investigation into the Mumbai attack so far has been flawed “because of lack of evidence from India, so we have sent a set of 30 questions to India for which we need answers.” He said Pakistan wants the full statement of the surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab, who is in Indian custody.

    Six of the eight people charged by Pakistan are under arrest, Malik said. He didn’t specify what charges they face or the penalties if they are convicted. While Malik did not specify the nationalities of the suspects, Pakistan has acknowledged it is holding several Pakistani citizens in its investigation.

    Malik named Hamad Amin Sadiq, who has been arrested, as the “main operator” in the plot, without elaborating. Sadiq’s role was previously unreported. Others held include Zarar Shah and Zia-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who has been described by U.S. and Indian officials as a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander.

    Funding was obtained in Spain and Italy and the terrorists used mobile phone SIM cards from Austria and India, Malik said. One person involved in the attacks , Javed Iqbal, lived in Barcelona, and Malik declined to give details about his arrest.

    The group used e-mail to communicate using Internet domains based in Russia and Houston, he said. Malik said the attackers sailed in three boats from near the Pakistani port city of Karachi and that one of the boats has been seized.

    Spanish authorities had no knowledge of any connection to Spain in the case and have been in contact with their Pakistani counterparts since the arrests were announced today, according to an Interior Ministry official in Madrid who declined to be identified.
    Copyright © 2009 Asnycnow15 News/English
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