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    02 July 2009

    BP and China secure Iraq oilfield deal

    A British Petroleum-led group in harness with China’s National Petroleum Corporation was the only bidder to secure a contract to develop Iraq’s oil output in a televised auction.

    Six oilfields and and two gas fields were available in the first big tender in Iraq since the 2003 US led invasion.

    BP and CNPC agreed to run the Rumaila field after Exxon Mobil pulled out because the two dollar a barrel renumeration fee was too small.

    Iraq has the world’s third largest proven oil reserves at 115 billion barrels.

    The Iraq oil ministry wants to increase oil production from 2.4 million barrels a day to more than four million barrels daily in the next five years.

    That adds up to 1.7 trillion dollars of oil revenue over 20 years – 30 billion of it going to the oil companies.

    Dependent on oil for more than 95 per cent of state income, Iraq needs money to rebuild after six years of bloodshed.

    It also needs the capital and expertise that foreign firms can bring to repair damage to its oil infrastructure caused by decades of war, sanctions and neglect.

    Some of the bidders have submitted revised bids that were not made public and those bids are being presented to the Iraqi cabinet for further consideration.

    US hit by dismal jobless figures

    Another 467,000 Americans were laid off in June, many more than had been feared. The figures came in a Labor Department report that immediately had Wall Street grimacing.

    Most forecasters had been expecting around 350,000 lay offs, which would have been bad news anyway.

    The cuts were spread across all sectors except for education and health.

    The job losses are expected to continue until the end of the year at the earliest, reaching the ten percent threshold from the current 9.5 percent.

    Fresh lay offs will come from bankrupt car-makers GM and Chrysler and other sectors including nappy- and tissue-producer Kimberley-Clark and farming equipment giant Deere & Co.

    Summer fashions and food ‘stabilise’ M&S sales

    Warm weather has boosted sales of summer fashions and food at Britain’s biggest clothing retailer Marks and Spencer.

    The group reported its smallest quarterly sales decline in almost two years.

    M&S, which sells clothes, household goods and food at more than 600 UK stores and about 285 abroad, says it remains cautious despite the positive signs on consumer sentiment.

    Britain’s retailers are battling the deepest recession in decades. Industry sales are falling and a raft of companies in the sector have posted slumps in annual profits.

    M&S says sales at UK stores which have been open more than a year fell 1.4 per cent in the 13 weeks to June 27 after a fourth quarter drop of 4.2 per cent.

    It may have been the seventh quarterly fall in a row but it is the best performance since the second quarter of the 2007-2008 financial year.

    German car sales hit record high

    Germans bought more cars in the first half of 2009 than ever before. Nearly 2.06 million new vehicles were sold, a jump of 26 percent on the same period last year. Motorists were seduced by the German government’s ‘bangers for cash’ scheme which gives buyers of new vehicles 2,500 euros in exchange for their previous car if it is older than nine years. Figures for the month of June were up 40 percent year-on-year.

    EP awaits Council clarity on Barroso

    New Liberal leader in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt has placed the ball firmly in the EU Council’s court over Jose Manuel Barroso’s candidature to stay as European Commission President.

    With the Parliament’s Liberal, Socialist, Green and GUE/NGL groups having confirmed their objection, Verhofstadt said the leaders’ Council had left its backing vague:

    “It is not formalised. Everybody is talking about a procedure of nomination. But it is not even started. What happened is that a political decision (was) taken, but the European Parliament has not seen a formal request. In my point of view it is quite original, but not normal.”

    The odds are against a vote going ahead at the new Parliament’s inaugural session on July 15 — on whether to endorse the Portuguese former prime minister’s bid for a second term heading the EU executive body — though he has the powerful centre right’s backing.

    Some MEPs want the vote delayed till after Ireland’s second referendum on the Lisbon reform Treaty, expected this October.

    Czechs bow out of EU presidency to little applause

    The stormy six-month boat-rocking Czech presidency of the European Union is at an end.

    Many – among the 27 nation bloc – are likely to be breathing huge sighs of relief.

    The former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, whose centre-right cabinet was toppled in a no confidence motion at the end of March, has described the presidency as a “wasted opportunity”.

    The country’s Euro-sceptic President Vaclav Klaus went so far as to liken EU control to that of the former Soviet Union.

    Known for his staunch opposition to the EU’s reforming Lisbon Treaty, Klaus was often overshadowed by Topolanek who intervened to push the treaty through both houses of parliament, helping to unblock the ratification of the text.

    The last EU summit held under the Czech presidency paved the way for a new referendum on the treaty in Ireland where voters rejected it a year ago.

    Klaus is still threatening to have the final word as he is the last link in the Czech ratification chain. The treaty has to be agreed by all the member countries before it can take effect.

    The president says he is in no rush to sign and will wait until the last possible moment.

    The uncertainty over Lisbon and quirky digs at the rest of Europe, exemplified by the controversial Entropa artwork, only added to the Czech government crisis that undermined the presidency role ahead of key summits in May.

    Many European diplomats have classified the Czech presidency as “catastrophic”. The diplomatic community is relying on the Swedes to steady the ship.

    Swedish EU presidency faces big challenges

    Sweden faces some daunting tasks as it assumes the EU’s six month rotating presidency. The Nordic country of just nine milion people – home to less than two per cent of the 27 nation group’s population – is hoping size does not matter when it comes to a range of challenges.

    At the top of the agenda is the global economic downturn. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt says the EU must continue with its recovery plan. An integral part of that will be tackling public debt and dealing with unemployment.

    Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has impeccable credentials. A former prime minister, his government programme was one of liberalizing and reforming the Swedish economy.

    The Swedish presidency will be tasked with bringing together a coherent position on climate change. EU leaders are committed to replacing the Kyoto protocol.

    Political analyst Richard Erixon believes pollution could prove to be a distraction: “I think the government’s ambition is way too high, especially when it comes to climate change. The prime minister has high hopes on the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December, but I think China and the United States have other priorities. It’s about the economic crisis and I think he should concentrate on that too.”

    Managing the downturn – financial regulation – EU enlargement and unexpected crises such as the gas transit debacle on Ukraine all remain to be dealt with. Sweden will have to navigate the EU through negotiations with Iran over its uranium enrichment programme.

    Sweden’s presidency will be dominated by an Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty due to be held in October. Another resounding “no” vote would plunge Stockholm into damage limitation mode.

     

    Eurozone interest rate stays put as expected.

    The European Central Bank has kept its interest rates at the current record low of one percent.

    The Governing Council was in Luxembourg for one of its two annual meetings outside of Frankfurt.

    ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet said that he was not overly concerned about falling prices, which he said would be “short-lived.”

    “The fall of annual inflation rates into negative territory in June is in line with previous expectations and reflects mainly temporary effects,” he said.

    The ECB also announced its 60 billion-euro company bond-buying scheme would start next Monday. Last week it lent banks almost half a trillion euros to get them lending to their customers again.

    Meanwhile, Sweden’s central bank took the surprise step of cutting its key interest rate from 0.5 percent to 0.25 percent. It has never been lower.

    Despite some evidence of Swedes’ consumer confidence stabilising, demand remains low and the Riksbank said that the severity of the slowdown meant the rate cut was necessary.

    Bad news on the European job front

    The unemployment rate in the 16-nation Eurozone has hit its highest level since the euro currency was introduced ten years ago. That is to say 9.5 percent or just over 15 million people.

    The figure for May was up 0.2 percent on the previous month. In the 12 months leading up to May, 3.4 million jobs were lost in the Eurozone.

    Europe’s worst hit job market is in Spain, where the unemployment rate is above 18 percent. But the number of people out of work there fell in both May and June, with a public works programme providing hundreds of thousands of temporary jobs.

    Spain’s prime minister seized on this silver lining. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said:

    “We must be prudent but it means that the measures adopted by the government are starting to have positive effects and that some indexes show the economic situation in the second quarter is better than in the first quarter.”

    However the Europe-wide rise in unemployment has dampened hopes anyone might have had of a quick recovery from recession.

    Signs of an upturn will take time to have an effect on the job market and the number of people out of work is expected to keep rising until next year.

    Fruit and vegetable rules lifted

    The red tape of “unnecessary marketing standards” has fallen — that is: no more European Union rules on fruit and vegetable size. That is one less gripe for eurosceptics. Brussels said the scrapped measure had put a dent in revenues and created waste.

    Twenty-six fruits and vegetables are now free to grow their own way. But ten — including peaches, pears and tomatoes — still have to watch the scales.

    A retailer in Romania welcomed the return of leguminous permissiveness: “The plant is not producing same quality vegetables. Some of them are small some of them are big, but the taste is the same. This is good for people. For instance, pensioners can pay less: I’ve got three different prices according to different quality of green peppers.”

    The new rules put fruit and vegetables into the national sovereignty basket. Even the ten high-value ones still subject to EU rule can be sold, provided they are labelled differently from ‘class I’, ‘class II’ and ‘extra’.

    West battles Taliban and opium economy

    Musa Qala in the north of Helmand province has been one of the key battle grounds in the fight for control of Afghanistan.

    The recapture of the town in December 2007 was hailed in the West as a hugely symbolic success and the vindication of a policy of giving the Afghan army a greater role in military operations.

    Helmand is the Taliban’s heartland, and also the source of more than half the country’s opium — a consequence, perhaps, of the West’s failure to impose its authority there.

    Poppy production remains one of the pillars of the Afghan economy despite efforts to control it. A drive to curtail output in 2008 only reduced it by an estimated 6 percent. Today the UN believes Afghanistan provides 90 of the worlds poppy supplies.

    The 2008 harvest had a reputed value of around 518 million euros. By the time it got to its target markets it was worth almost 2.5 half billion. Unsurprisingly it accounts for a massive slice of Gross Domestic Product.

    But it is also estimated that only about 20 percent of that wealth is returned to the country. Afghanistan is one of the five poorest countries in the wolrd. Many struggle in poverty and when basic food prices surge, as they did last year, anger can boils over into street protests.

    The figures make grim reading for an already impoverished state. Once strong growth collapsed to 3.4 percent, while inflation soared to 27 percent. 42 percent of Afghans now live on less than one euro a day.

    The economic importance of poppy growth to ordinary Afghans is a major obstacle to the eradication of the crop in Helmand, as much, some analysts say, as the Taliban.

    Afghanistan’s population is 80 percent rural but many do not have access to water, land for cultivation or the kind of micro-credits that have helped farmers flourish in other developing countries. Some experts believe the West should give as much priority to an economic development strategy, as to a military one.

    First report delivered into AF447 crash

    French investigators looking into the Air France crash over the Atlantic a month ago have delivered their first report.

    They said they were still far from establishing what caused the Airbus 330 travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris to plunge into the Atlantic on June 1 with 228 people on board.

    There were no survivors.

    Chief investigator Alain Bouillard said they were able to rule out any possibility that the plane broke up in mid-air.

    “It seems the plane hit the surface of the water in the line of flight with a strong vertical acceleration,” he added.

    Investigators said the search would continue for the plane’s black boxes but hopes of finding them are fading fast as they only emit signals 30 days after a crash.

    51 bodies and hundreds of pieces of wreckage have been recovered.

    No distress call was received from the plane, but 24 automated messages were sent in the final minutes before it came down.

    There has been speculation about the plane’s airspeed sensors, the so-called “pitot” probes, which provided inconsistent readings in the final minutes before the plane came down. However, investigators said that while they might have been one of the elements they were not the cause of the accident.

    Major Afghan surge aims to squeeze Taliban

    The goal of Operation Strike of the Sword is all of the Lower Helmand River valley.

    Two British soldiers were killed on Wednesday paving the way for this latest offensive.

    Waves of helicopters landed troops before dawn. About 4,000 surged forward, backed up by thousands more in one of the biggest operations in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

    In all, there are 61,000 troops from 42 countries fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    America’s 29,000 are due to be more than doubled by the end of the year. Britain has had a major major presence in Helmand Province since the invasion in 2001.

    And the Afghan force comprises almost 90,000. The Taliban is estimated by one general to number between 10,000 and 18,000 in the south.

    Pakistan has re-deployed some of its border forces to block the frontier with south-western Afghanistan to prevent insurgent fighters from fleeing.

    The Taliban might be at the centre of a squeeze, but they have warned they will fight back.

    Italian Senate approves immigration crackdown

    Tough new laws against illegal immigration are set to come into force after being approved by the Italian senate.

    Among the controversial measures are fines of up to 10,000 euros for anyone caught trying to enter the country illegally. It has provoked an outcry from humanitarian groups and the left.

    Felice Belisario of the leftist opposition said the costs of implementing the legislation would actually undermine security and “paralyse the justice system”.

    The detention period for suspected offenders has been increased from two to four months. Cracking down on illegal immigration has been a top priority for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his allies.

    Federico Bricolo of the Northern League said: “Having stopped the illegals from landing on our shores we’re targeting those in our towns — the criminals, drug-traffickers and pimps. We don’t want these people among us.”

    Italy has been one of the European country’s most affected by illegal immigration in recent years and it remains divided on how to tackle the problem. In some areas people have set up civilian patrols, another source of deep debate.

    The nuclear debate reaches boiling point in Spain

    The government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is to decide whether to allow an ageing nuclear plant to remain in service longer than its 40-year normal lifespan.

    According to television reports in Spain the Garona nuclear reactor will get the green light until 2013.

    Prime Minister Zapatero has emphasised the importance of alternative energy sources.

    “The government has to maintain what is strictly necessary concerning nuclear energy, just the absolutely essential, but the emphasis is on renewable energy,” he said.

    Workers from the Garona nuclear plant gathered in Madrid to protest the possible closure of the reactor near Burgos in northern Spain in 2013. They faced environmentalists demanding that the plants be closed immediately.

    Luis Gonzalez Reyes of Spain’s Ecologists in Action said: “It’s about the greed of some private energy companies such as Endese and Iberdrola to continue making a profit.”

    Spain has eight functioning nuclear plants. Some will not turn 40 until 2020. Permits for six of them are due to be renewed by 2011.

    Zapatero’s socialists have pledged to gradually replace nuclear power with renewable energy.

    Spain is the second biggest solar energy producer in the world and is ranked number three worldwide for the production of wind energy.

    Zapatero’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the country’s heavy dependence on imported fuels. This is the first test of his electoral pledge to phase out nuclear power.

    ALERT|Fire Marshal's Wife Gets Max for Murder

    A fire marshal's wife convicted of using his own gun to shoot him dead while he slept will spend 25 years to life in prison for the crime.


    More Updates on this Story Later…..

    Comoros crash miracle survivor flown home

    The sole survivor of the Comoros air crash has been flown home to France and is being treated in hospital. Even though Bahia Bakari can barely swim, she clung on to floating debris for the entire day before rescuers spotted her.

    It was a painful homecoming. Although the 12 year old was reunited with her father before being taken to hospital, her mother did not make it out alive from the stricken jet.

    The Yemenia Airways Airbus plunged into the Indian Ocean while trying to land in bad weather.
    The lack of flotsam has led local rescuers to suspect many of the 152 remaining passengers and crew remain trapped in the body of the Airbus.

    There is a feeling among the search teams that efforts should now be concentrated on finding the wreck of the plane.

    The President of the Comoros, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, went to the makeshift rescue centre at Mitsamiouli on the coast. Dozens of Red Crescent tents have sprung up on the shoreline. About 100 American, Yemeni, French and Comoran military have gathered to help in the rescue effort.

    French Air Accident investigators are also sending a team, along with expert engineers from Airbus.

    Two killed in RAF Tornado crash

    Two RAF air crew have been killed after a Tornado jet crashed during a training flight in Argyll.

    The plane came down on a hillside near the Rest and Be Thankful beauty spot in Glen Kinglass, near Arrochar, at about 1145 BST.

    The Ministry of Defence said that the Tornado F3 was based at RAF Leuchars in Fife and that next of kin had been informed.

    No civilians are thought to have been hurt in the crash.

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