Thursday, November 29, 2007

Malaysian-born Penny now Aussie minister

Malaysian-born Penny Wong will be Minister for Climate Change and Water, with responsibility for international negotiations on the Kyoto treaty, which aims to curb the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Rudd told a news conference that the new minister would accompany him to a key UN conference in Bali next month which aims to produce plans for action on climate change beyond 2012, when current Kyoto commitments expire.

Wong was born in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to a Chinese Malaysian father and an Australian mother. She moved to Australia at the age of eight with her mother and brother, after her parents separated. After spending a year on exchange in Brazil, Wong studied Arts/Law at the University of Adelaide. While at university, she worked part time for the Cinstruction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

She also became involved in political activism at university, winning a position on the National Executive of the National Union Students. In 1988, Wong joined the Australian Labor Party, winning a position as a delegate to the party's state convention the following year. She has been a delegate each year since, with the exception of 1995.

Wong graduated from university in 1992, and continued on with the CFMEU, working as an industrial officer, gaining admission to the bar in 1993. During 1995 and 1996, she acted as an advisor to the New South Wales state government, specialising in the area of forest policy. On returning to Adelaide, she began practising law, won a position on the ALP's state executive, and also took on work as a legal officer with the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellanous Union.

Wong ran for pre-selection for the Senate in 2001, and was selected for the top spot on the party's South Australian ticket, as a result of affirmative action policies and factional changes. Wong is a member of Emily's List Australia, the support network for Labor women, and currently sits on a number of Senate committees, primarily those related to economics.

She has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister John Howard's ban on same-sex marriages despite the ban also having the support of her own party.

In June 2005 Wong was appointed Shadow Minister for Employment and Workforce Participation and Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility. Following the reshuffle in December 2006, she became responsible for the portfolios of Public Administration & Accountability, Corporate Governance & Responsibility, and Workforce Participation.

In November 2007, in the wake of the Labor Party victory in the 2007 election, Wong was appointed Minister for Climate Change and Water. Her appointment as the first Australian from an Asian background to hold a cabinet position was quickly greeted by ethnic groups. As a result of this promotion, she will be the highest ranked politican representing South Australia.

UK teacher jailed over teddy row

A British teacher has been found guilty in Sudan of insulting religion after she allowed her primary school class to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, has been sentenced to 15 days in prison and will then be deported.

Iranian child sold for sex and raped by own brothers

Sold into prostitution aged nine, condemned by an Iranian judge to hang at 18, Leila was saved by a group of human rights activists.

"I was nine years old when my mother started selling me. I did not understand what was happening."

Today Leila is a young woman of 22. For the past two years she has been cared for by a private home for destitute young women in Tehran, Omid E Mehr, which means Hope.

"My mother would say: 'Let's go out to buy things, like chocolates'. She would actually trick me. I was a tiny girl. She just took me to places."

Leila still finds it difficult to talk about the past. But we know that the "places" she speaks of are where she was sold for sex and raped.

Leila became the main source of income for a family of five.

The lawyer who eventually saved Leila's life, Shadi Sadr, is a controversial figure in Iran. Although she was imprisoned earlier this year for taking part in human rights demonstrations, she is widely respected and frequently quoted in the press.

Ms Sadr says Leila's story is not unique.

"A girl is considered one of the first commodities or properties that can be traded or sold in the eyes of a parent who is poor in Iran," she says.

Ms Sadr says that, in practice in Iran, under the Islamic penal code a father has enormous power over his own children.

"If a father decides to kill his own child he will not be sentenced to death, he will only be sent to prison for a couple of years."

Temporary wife

Leila lived in Arak, a small town four hours drive south of Tehran - notorious for criminal behaviour and illegal drugs. Most of Leila's earnings went on illegal narcotics for her family.

According to the United Nations three quarters of the world's opium seizures take place in Iran and the authorities acknowledge addiction is a serious problem.

But there are no such statistics on prostitution. The Director of the Omid E Mehr centre in Tehran says it is a growing problem.

"I have entered many homes in the south of Tehran where young girls had to go out and sell their bodies to provide for their father's drug habits," says Eshrat Gholipour.

I have also seen several cases of families chaining their own daughter to the homes to stop them from running away."

Leila's husband begun selling her for sex to as many as 15 men each night. Two months into the marriage, police raided the house and arrested everyone.

The husband was sentenced to five years in jail for providing a house for illegal sex.

During the course of the criminal investigation, Leila's brothers had confessed to raping her. They were flogged. For this Leila was accused of incest. A crime punishable by death.

Leila was in a women's prison when she heard about her own sentence from the warder: "I am going to tell you something but please do not be upset. You are going to be hanged."

Ms Sadr says the judicial system is deeply conservative and unfair.

"These male judges have not had any training about sexual charges. They all have a chauvinistic point of view and they see the woman as guilty," she says.

Leila's brothers later retracted their confessions. Ms Sadr took Leila's case to appeal and won. -BBC

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

British teacher charged over teddy row In Sudan

A British teacher has been charged in Sudan with insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs.

The Foreign Office has confirmed that charges have been laid against Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool.

She was arrested in Khartoum after allowing her class of primary school pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said he will summon the Sudanese ambassador "as a matter of urgency".

In a statement, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "surprised and disappointed" at the charges.

A spokesman said the first step was to "understand the rationale behind the charge", something which would be discussed by Mr Miliband and the ambassador as soon as possible.
'Shameful ordeal'

"We will consider our response in the light of that," he added.
Lawyers say Mrs Gibbons faces six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine if convicted.
Sudanese state media said prosecutors had completed their investigation and decided to charge Mrs Gibbons under Article 125 of the Sudanese criminal code.

What can't be named Muhammad?
The BBC's Amber Henshaw, in Khartoum, said Mrs Gibbons was expected to appear in court on Thursday.

The Muslim Council of Britain reacted angrily to the news, saying it was "appalled" and demanded Mrs Gibbons' immediate release.
"This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense. There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith," said Secretary-General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, in a strongly-worded statement.

"We call upon the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, to intervene in this case without delay to ensure that Ms Gibbons is freed from this quite shameful ordeal," said Dr Bari.
Possible acquittal.

Mrs Gibbons taught at the fee-paying Unity High School in Khartoum and the school's director, Robert Boulos, said earlier: "This is a very sensitive issue. We are very worried about her safety.

But I think the lady, she hasn't got any intention to insult the Islamic religion, therefore I am sure, very sure that if she went to the court she might be acquitted
Ghazi Suleiman, Sudanese MP.

Earlier, the Sudanese Embassy in London said the situation was a "storm in a teacup" and signalled that the teacher could be released soon, attributing the incident to a cultural misunderstanding.

But Sudan's top clerics have called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.
"What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam," the Sudanese Assembly of the Ulemas said in a statement.

The semi-official clerics body is considered relatively moderate and is believed to have the ear of the Sudanese government.

A Sudanese human rights lawyer and Member of Parliament countered that Mrs Gibbons may be acquitted or simply fined under the discretion of the magistrate.

"It is not imperative to lash her, it is not imperative to send her to prison," said Ghazi Suleiman. "But I think the lady, she hasn't got any intention to insult the Islamic religion, therefore I am sure, very sure that if she went to the court she might be acquitted."

Mrs Gibbons was arrested on Sunday after several parents made complaints to Sudan's Ministry of Education.

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner said the situation could potentially become a very serious diplomatic incident.

Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials Abroad, told BBC News 24 that getting fair legal representation for Mrs Gibbons is a priority: "We are shocked and dismayed as I think many people are." -BBC

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Abdullah : using ISA against street protestors

The Government will use the Internal Security Act (ISA) against street demonstrators who threaten national security and disrupt racial harmony if necessary, warned the Prime Minister.

“If there are reasons for us to use it, we will use it,” Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stressed.

He was commenting on illegal street demonstrations held in Kuala Lumpur recently, including the latest by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), which claims to be fighting for the Hindus in Malaysia.

Abdullah said using the law, which allows for detention without trial, would be preventive action to spare the country untoward incidents that could affect its peace and national security.

“The ISA is there, if the situation warrants it, it will be used,” he told reporters at the RMAF air base in Subang here upon his return from Cairo yesterday.

On calls by certain quarters for the ISA to be invoked against illegal street demonstrators, Abdullah said: “I am very surprised that people want the ISA. I thought they never wanted it.”

The police, he said, would decide on the appropriate action to be taken.

Abdullah also warned that action would be taken against those who download and distribute the memorandum signed by Hindraf legal adviser lawyer P. Uthayakumar addressed to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which had been published in the Internet. The memorandum alleges persecution of Malaysian Indians..

He said the Government acknowledged freedom of the Internet but action could be taken against those who misuse it to spread allegations against the Government.

The memorandum appeals to Britain to refer Malaysia to the World Court for crimes against ethnic Indians. It also claimed that “100 over Indians were slashed and killed by the Umno-controlled Malaysian government in the Kampung Medan mini genocide”.

To this, Abdullah said that if Hindraf had indeed made such claim, Umno would act.

“We want to know what proof they have (to support their claim). This is a serious accusation because they say it was Umno,” he said.

On Hindraf’s action, he said: “They want to kiss the orang putih (British). They want the orang putih to take action because they are not satisfied with us”.

Abdullah said Hindraf got support from the Indian community who thought they would each get RM1mil in compensation from its class-action suit filed against the British Government for bringing Indians into Malaya to work as labourers.

The Prime Minister also said that everyone must realise that accusations against the Government were made because certain people thought that the election was around the corner, and this was the case in every elections.

“But we hear what they say. Some of the demands are in the process of being addressed while some have been addressed but they are still harping on it,” he said.

On Cameron Highlands MP S.K. Devamany’s comment in Parliament that the Hindraf demonstration showed there was frustration at the lower levels in the community, Abdullah said the Government must be fair to all.

“If we focus on the interest of one group, others will be jealous, others will complain,” he said.

Monday, November 26, 2007

China - The world's second-biggest aircraft market

Airbus, the world’s largest commercial planemaker, won an order from China for 160 aircraft valued at around $17 billion, cementing a record year.

The deal comprises 110 A320s and 50 A330s, European Aeronautic, Defence & Space, CEO, Louis Gallois, Airbus’s parent, said after the contracts were signed in Beijing on Monday. The deal includes 10 A330 aircraft ordered by China Southern Airlines Co, according to an announcement at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.

The contracts are a boost for Toulouse, France-based Airbus as it struggles to end losses following a $6.8 billion charge from the A380 superjumbo and delays to its new A350 long-haul plane. Airbus and Chicago-based Boeing have benefited from a jump in sales to Asia and the Persian Gulf, sending annual orders at both manufacturers to record levels. Airbus will also award Chinese companies 5% of supply contracts for the 300-seat A350, including wing flaps and rudders, Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Bregier said on Monday, without elaborating.

The European planemaker is building an assembly line in China. The executives are travelling with a trade delegation led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a three-day visit to China. Airbus’s new orders this year will surpass the 1,111 amassed in 2005.

Airbus had already won 1,021 new orders through the end of October and announced firm orders or commitments for 297 further planes at the Dubai Air show in mid-November. While Airbus is booking new orders at record rates, it faces huge financial challenges in coping with a weak dollar, the currency for aircraft purchases.

Airbus said on November 23 it may have to cut its e2 billion research budget to trim costs as the dollar’s decline becomes what Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders called “life threatening”. China’s economic growth, which more than doubled personal income in the past five years, is boosting demand for air traffic and airlines’ ambitions for expansion.

Passenger volume will have an annual 14.5% growth until 2010, according to estimates of the General Administration of Civil Aviation. Cargo volume will rise by an annual 13%.

Abdullah:Hindraf testing the government's patience

KAMPALA, Nov 25 -- Police had to be firm in dispersing the illegal gathering in Kuala Lumpur in the interest of public safety and security, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

He said the situation could have easily turned violent if police did not take the necessary action to break up the demonstration.

"I was told that one group of demonstrators pelted policemen and police vehicles (with stones and bricks) at Batu Caves and they also tore down the temple gate there," Abdullah told Malaysian reporters at the end of the three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM 2007) here.

Abdullah said if police did not take the necessary action to disperse the crowd, others would have blamed them for not protecting the public.

However, police did not retaliate violently although they were provoked, he added.

To a question, Abdullah said those who had been organising street demonstrations seemed to be
testing the government's patience.

"Don't abuse the freedom that has been given to you," he said, adding that those who took part in the illegal gathering would not go unpunished.

Abdullah said claims that a particular race was being marginalised was not true as there were poor and rich people among all races in the country.

He said if the Barisan Nasional government did not help the poor, it would have been rejected by the people long ago.

"In every society, there are poor people and we have been doing our best to help the Indian community through the MIC, and we will continue to help them," he said.

Abdullah also questioned Hindraf's (Hindu Rights Action Force) intention to go ahead with the demonstration despite police warning not to do so.

"If you want to submit a memorandum, there are other ways of doing it," he said, adding that action could also be taken against public servants who took part in the illegal demonstration.

He said the demonstration yesterday disrupted business and caused people, including tourists, to stay away from the city centre.

Abdullah also refuted claims that there was no democracy and media freedom in the country. (Bernama)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Three Hindraf leaders arrested under ISA

KUALA LUMPUR: Police have arrested three Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) leaders under the Sedition Act on Friday.

P. Uthayakumar (photos), Hindraf's legal advisor was arrested Friday morning, while his brother Waythamoorthy, who is also the organisation's president, and S. Ganapathy Rao were arrested in the afternoon.

Uthayakumar was arrested under the Sedition Act at his office in Bangsar on Friday by five plainclothes policemen from the Selangor police headquarters in Shah Alam.

Uthayakumar, 46, was in his room working when the police came at about 10.30am. His secretary A. Shantha said the police had told the staff they wanted to serve a warrant on Uthayakumar.

"The policemen then approached Uthayakumar and before we knew it, he was arrested. The arrest was by the same team of policemen who had earlier gone to see Uthayakumar in his house in Bangsar at 7am to serve him with a court order," said Shantha.

The court order served on Uthayakumar in his house was issued by a Kuala Lumpur magistrate's court under Section 98 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

This section allows for a magistrate to issue an order in urgent cases of nuisance. The magistrate may direct a person to abstain from a certain act if the magistrate considers the intended action is likely to cause annoyance, injuries or endanger humans or lead to a riot.

The order is effective for seven days, until next Thursday.

Hindraf is planning a gathering on Sunday outside the British High Commission in Jalan Ampang.

At least 20,000 people are expected to take part in Sunday’s gathering and the protestors had been told to dress in orange.

The assembly is to submit a petition with 100,000 signatures to Queen Elizabeth II to appoint a Queen’s Counsel to represent the Indian community in a class action suit against the British government for bringing Indians as labourers to the then Malaya and exploiting them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ahmadinejad's behaviour is dangerous

In a rare attack on Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardline newspaper has accused him of behaving immorally towards his political rivals.

The Islamic Republic daily, close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has said Mr Ahmadinejad's behaviour is dangerous for Iran.

The publication is seen as a newspaper with impeccable Islamic credentials.

The attack would be difficult to imagine without at least tacit support from Ayatollah Khamenei.

In a hard-hitting editorial on Wednesday, the Tehran paper said the president's treatment of his
critics was immoral, illogical and illegal.

Losing support

It was referring to a
recent speech by Mr Ahmadinejad when he described people opposed to his nuclear programme as traitors and accused some senior former nuclear negotiators of spying for foreigners.

The paper said Mr Ahmadinejad was using this tactic to discredit his political rivals prior to the parliamentary elections due early next year.

It called on Iran's judiciary to perform its duty and punish people who make baseless allegations and cause public anxiety.

Such a direct personal attack against President Ahmadinejad is indeed rare in official media in Iran.

It shows that the Iranian president is not only losing support among ordinary people because of economic hardship, he is also angering part of the establishment for using the nuclear issue to bolster his personal power. -BBC

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Proton and Volkswagen deal is off

The government and Volkswagen said today they had shelved long-running talks about an alliance between the German firm and Malaysia's national carmaker Proton.

Malaysia's state investment arm Khazanah Nasional, which controls Proton, said it had discontinued negotiations with Volkswagen.

The German carmaker also said in a statement it and the Malaysian government had for the time being decided "to shelve their joint talks" about the alliance.

The talks began in October 2004 aiming to revitalise Proton, which experts say has suffered from stiff competition, a lack of new models and a reputation for poor quality.

Khazanah said it had also ended talks with General Motors. The government had earlier said it would turn to the US auto giant if talks with Volkswagen failed.

An improvement in Proton's domestic sales and exports had led to the decision to halt negotiations, the state investment arm said in its statement.

"The government is therefore of the view that Proton's management should be allowed to continue with its plans to further strengthen the company," it said.

But it also left the door ajar for a future tie-up, saying a strategic alliance could be considered at a later date.

"Talks with Volkswagen have not broken down. They may have discussions later on," a senior finance ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP.

"For the time being, Proton will not enter into any pact with any car manufacturer. The government has decided that Proton will be managed by itself," the official said.

Proton has suffered a sharp decline in market share and been hit by losses, including a 46.75-million-ringgit loss over the three months to June.

A deal was expected to boost Proton's efforts to reclaim top spot in Malaysia and gain a foothold in the lucrative European market.

But such partnerships were hard to forge because of the government's reluctance to cede control of a key national company to foreign hands, analysts said.

"We can only speculate but management control and the shareholding structure was probably the main issue. The talks have really dragged on," Kurnia Insurans chief investment officer Pankaj Kumar told AFP.

"Proton cars have been selling well locally for the last few months but at the end of the day, Proton has to be competitive globally," he said.

"I don't think it has been that innovative. The new models are mostly re-badged versions of previous models," he added.

A Volkswagen spokesman said in Frankfurt that the group was now looking for "new commitments" in Southeast Asia.

"The company continues to pursue the goal of developing a successful foundation for production and distribution in Southeast Asia for years to come," the firm said.- AFP

French civil servants strike turn heat on President

President Nicolas Sarkozy faces a crucial test of his nerve today as a transport strike continues into its seventh day of commuter chaos, and civil servants stage a walkout that could see up to half of France's schools closed and disrupt air traffic control, the postal service and even weather forecasts.

France's rail and bus strike is continuing despite trade union leaders agreeing to begin talks with the government and state employers tomorrow. They are protesting at plans to change special pensions deals which allow certain workers to retire as young as 50 on favourable terms.

But the strike has been prolonged to overlap with Sarkozy's latest industrial headache: an unrelated 24-hour stoppage by public sector workers, including teachers, hospital staff and postal workers. State employees from defence ministry secretaries to weather office staff will stop work in protest at low salaries and public sector job cuts.

But the president is said to be standing firm on his modernising agenda, in the face of a "black November" of protests against his reforms.

Sarkozy's senior adviser on industrial relations, Raymond Soubie, insisted that this week's snowballing strikes were not the president's "Thatcher moment". He said the transport workers' pension deals would be reformed, but added: "Sarkozy has not
wanted to force it through à la Thatcher, but through dialogue."

Sarkozy, despite his image as an iron-willed moderniser, has so far taken a cautious and soft approach. Unusually for the omnipresent leader dubbed "super Sarko", he has not made a public speech for almost a week, aware that he must not be seen to be crowing victory or humiliating his opponents.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mind Your Own Business, it’s Myanmar domestic affair

Singapore’s proposal to invite the United Nations' special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to brief East Asian leaders who are meeting here tomorrow has been met with strong opposition by other Asean countries.

Myanmar’s unhappiness over the special briefing was at first voiced by its Foreign Minister Nyan Win to his Asean counterparts yesterday and later in the evening by Myanmar Prime Minister Lieutenant General Thein Sein during the Asean leaders' informal dinner.

Host Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who held a press conference immediately after the dinner said the special session would not be held after Thien Sein voiced his unhappiness.

“Prime Minister Thein Sein (front right) made clear the situation is a domestic affair and Myanmar was capable of handling itself. He explained that Gambari had visited Myanmar four times and Myanmar had implemented many of his proposals. He should only report to the UN Security Council and not the East Asia Summit.

In view of Myanmar’s position, Gambari will not brief Asean or East Asia Summit leaders. Singapore will facilitate meetings with interested parties,” Lee told a press conference, flanked by all the leaders.

Asean officials said some countries felt that Asean matters should stay within the grouping and not involve other countries outside the region.

Singapore then proposed for Gambari to meet with Asean leaders and again this was not agreed upon,” said an Asean official.

Singapore has invited Gambari to have a special session when Asean leaders meet their dialogue partners – China, Japan and South Korea – on the latest developments in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the Asean Charter to be signed by the leaders today would not sideline Myanmar which has been globally criticised for its human rights violations.

“Whatever views that have been voiced, this is a decision made by our foreign ministers on a consensus basis and Asean must accept it. We do not want any country to be left behind,” he told the Malaysian media.

Abdullah said the charter would pave the way to strengthen Asean’s integration in all aspects including economic and social ones.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saudi King Abdullah : Oil shouldn't be a tool for conflict

King Abdullah says oil shouldn't be a tool for conflict; it should be a tool for development.

King Abdullah, the head of state of the host nation, Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer in the world and a US ally says, "Those who want Opec to take advantage of its position are forgetting that Opec has always acted moderately and wisely," he said.

Saudi King Abdullah attends the opening ceremony for the OPEC Summit in Riyadh November 17, 2007. OPEC heads of state pledged to provide 'adequate, timely and sufficient' oil supplies to the market at a meeting in Riyadh on Sunday, but the summit ended with a sharp political division over the weak dollar.

The Saudi king also tried to redirect the Opec opening session to the summit's agenda, announcing a move to support environmental efforts.

He said: "I wish to announce that the Saudi government has put $300m in a programme to finance scientific research in the fields of energy, environment and climate."

As the talks entered a second day on Sunday, other Opec members had not committed to the Saudi plan.

Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, which has rejoined Opec after a 15 year break, proposed that a tax be imposed on oil-consuming nations for environmental protection programmes elsewhere.

Chavez : Venezuela or Iran Attack Could Double Oil Prices

Venezuela's president has warned that oil prices could more than double if the US attacks his country or Iran.

"If the United States was mad enough to attack Iran or aggress Venezuela again the price of a barrel of oil won't just reach $100 but even $200 dollars," he said.

In his opening address on Saturday (November 17, 2007) at a rare Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries summit in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, Chavez, a fiery leftist and fiercely anti-US leader declared that the group should "assert itself as an active political agent".

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer, rebuffed Chavez's idea of Opec becoming an overtly political organisation.

Mr Chavez called for unity in Opec ranks, invoking geopolitical reasons.

"The basis of all aggression is oil. It is the underlying reason," Mr Chavez said, referring to the war in Iraq and US threats against Iran over its nuclear programme.

"Today, Opec stands strong. It is stronger than it has ever been in the past. Opec should set itself up as an active geopolitical agent."

Iran leader calls USD a worthless piece of paper

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested an end to the trading of oil in US dollars, calling the currency "a worthless piece of paper".

The call came at the end of a rare Opec summit, and was opposed by US ally Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian president had wanted to include the attack on the dollar in the summit's closing statement.

The communique made little mention of the dollar, however, focusing instead on energy security and the environment.

Speaking after the end of the summit, Mr Ahmadinejad said all leaders at the meeting were unhappy with recent falls in the value of the dollar.

The dollar has weakened considerably against the euro and other currencies in the past 12 months.

Its decline has affected the revenues of Opec members because most of them price and sell their oil exports in the US currency.

Mr Ahmadinejad said that all Opec countries had showed interest in converting their cash reserves into other currencies.

"They [the US] get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper," he told reporters.

Iran's oil minister said that this would allow the formation of a committee to study the dollar's affect on oil prices and investigate the possibility of alternative trading currencies.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Zainuddin at AlJazeera: BERSIH Rally for Electoral Reform

Transcript of Malaysia's Information Minister's interview with Al Jazeera News on the Bersih Protest.

Minister: I commend yo-yo-your journalists trying to project... to exaggerate more than what actually happened. That-that-that-that's it. We are not the-the and I-I congratulate your journalists behaving like an actor, that-that's it...

Reporter: As you say that, sir, we're watching scenes of protesters being sprayed by chemical-filled water!

Minister: YA! I am watching! I'm here! You've been trying... trying to do it this - to do this everywhere but in Malaysia people are allowed to, you know? We know our police head our colleague... Police have whatever allowed the procession to go to the Istana Negara, you know? Do police, first police, like, they handle them, they attack them, they... the police don't, don't, don't fire anybody?

Reporter: Our correspondent came back to the office, sir, with chemicals in his eyes!

Minister:You-you-you-you are here with the idea, you are trying to project, what is your mind! You think that we Pakistan, we are Burma, we are Myanmar. Everything you-you are thinking! WE ARE DIFFERENT! We are totally different!

Reporter: Well unfortunately when you refuse to let people protest, it does appear so.

Minister: Ya ya we are not like you! You-you have earlier perception, you come here, you want to project us like undemocratic country. This a democratic country!

Reporter: So why can't people protest then, if it's a democratic country?

Minister: YES, PEOPLE PROTEST! People do-do... of course they protest. We are allowing them protest, and they have demonstrated. But we just trying to disperse them, and then later they-they-they don't wanna disperse, but later our police compromise. They have compromised and allowed them to proceed to Istana Negara! Police, our police have succeeded in handling them gently, right? Why do you report that? You take the opposition, someone from opposition party you ask him to speak. You don't take from the government, right?

Reporter: Why did you not break up these protests...

Minister: Pardon? Pardon? Pardon?

Reporter: Why did you not break up these protests more peacefully?

Minister: I can't hear you! I can't hear you!

Reporter: Why did you not break up these protests more peacefully?

Minister: No we-we are! We... this protest is illegal! We don't want..this... the... NORMALLY...

Reporter: OK, so let me return to my former question. Why is this protest illegal?

Minister: YA! It's a illegal protest because we have the erection in Malaysia. It's no-no point on having a protest! We are allowing to every erection... every five years never fail! We are not our like, like Myanmar, not like other country. And, and you are helping this. You Al-Jazeera also is helping this, this forces. The, you know, these forces who are not in passion, who don't believe in democracy!

Reporter: Alright, many thanks for joining us.

Minister: I don't, ya, you, Al-Jazeera, this is, is Al-Jazeera attitude. Right?

Malaysia lives under state of emergency - EU envoy

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia is living under an effective state of emergency, an EU envoy said on Tuesday (13.11.07), after police used tear gas and water cannon at the weekend to break up the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.

"Today, this country still lives under emergency," the European Commission's envoy to Malaysia, Thierry Rommel, told Reuters by telephone on the last day of his mission to Malaysia.

Rommel's remarks, extraordinarily blunt for a diplomat, chime with a chorus of criticism from opposition parties and some non-government groups about the way the government handled the protest, which it called an illegal assembly of troublemakers.

Police had set up road blocks around the capital to prevent protesters converging on Kuala Lumpur for Saturday's rally, but despite these measures and heavy rain, around 10,000 people thronged the city centre to call for electoral reform.

Police later moved in with tear gas and water cannons, which fired jets of water laced with a chemical irritant, to break up the crowd. There were no reports of any serious violence.

Rommel, who has spent four and a half years in Malaysia, said many Malaysians felt that their voices were not being heard and agreed that the electoral system should be reformed.

"It's not a secret that elections are not fair," he said, noting complaints from electoral reform group Bersih, organiser of Saturday's protest, that election campaigns were too short and that the media was biased toward government campaigning.

"There's a significant part of the population that feels their voice is not really heard because of the way elections are managed," he added. "They feel locked out."

The Belgian noted that several emergency-style laws were still in use, such as the Emergency Ordinance, born in 1969 to deal with race riots, and the colonial-era Internal Security Act (ISA). Both allow detention for years without trial.

None of these powers were used to quell Saturday's protest, and the ISA has not been used against opposition politicians and activists for several years. But the chief minister of central Pahang state, a member of the main ruling party, has said the ISA should be used if necessary to deal with future protests.

"They (emergency laws) all very clearly establish the legal framework for the executive to take measures in cases of unrest -- as the executive defines them," Rommel said.


Rommel, a career diplomat, is not new to controversy in Malaysia. He created a storm in June when he gave a speech likening Malaysia's affirmative-action policy to a trade barrier.

That remark brought a swift backlash and formal protest from the government. The trade minister even complained publicly that Rommel had an attitude problem, and his name started to disappear from the government's invitation lists.

But Rommel, who spoke to Reuters on condition that his comments be published after his departure later on Tuesday, said he was unrepentant about his criticisms and denied he was trying to superimpose Western values onto Malaysia.

He said Malaysia's "Bumiputra" policy of affirmative action, which favours majority ethnic Malays, distorted trade because it allowed the government to award state contracts to Malay businesses without clear, competitive tender procedures.

It also fostered corruption, he added.

"The extension of Bumiputra-based discrimination and preference in public procurement -- which is massive in the Malaysian economy -- has worked to the disadvantage of foreign players in particular and has become a vehicle for officially acknowledged corruption...," Rommel said.

"It is public knowledge that local Malay vested interests, with powerful political or administration connections, want to see this mechanism maintained."

Monday, November 12, 2007

China growth benefits whole world economy

Zhou Wenzhong (L), Chinese ambassador to the United States, extends to shake hands with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in New York in this April 20, 2007 photo. [Xinhua]

ANN ARBOR, Michigan -- China's plans to quadruple the per-capita income of its 1.3 billion people by the year 2050 presents a "win-win" opportunity for the world's economy, Chinese US Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong said Monday.

But Zhou said the threat of US trade protectionism and congressional backing for Taiwan's independence threaten to undermine the vital US-China relationship.

"Both the US and China should oppose Taiwan's independence," he told a respectful and remarkably sedate University of Michigan audience.

"The Chinese people have an acute understanding of the meaning of freedom and peace," Zhou said. "Peaceful development is the one and only path for developing the nation."

Zhou, 62, has been a vigorous and widely traveled US representative for China, giving a series of addresses in Oregon, Wyoming and Washington state in August, during which he addressed several of the key sources of friction between the two nations.

In response to a series of health scares regarding Chinese-made toys and food imports, Zhou said his government was stepping up efforts to ensure their safety.

He criticized Congress for filing dozens of bills targeting China on a range of trade issues, including product piracy, the Chinese trade surplus and currency exchange policies.

"The growing protectionist sentiments ... are particularly worrisome," Zhou said. "Issues and frictions are hardly avoidable, (but) protectionism or politicizing trade should never be an option."

Zhou said China's economy grew at an average annual rate of 9.6 percent from 1978-2006, and its gross domestic product increased from $147.3 billion to $2.8 trillion.

But he also said China has a long way to go, with a per capita income in 2006 of $2,100 compared with the US' $43,867.

"China ... follows a win-win strategy ... with all other countries," he said. "China's development is an opportunity for the world."

Zhou disputed claims that China is protectionist but said it will move to "open itself wider to the outside world.

"It has become one of the most open economies in the developing world," he said.

During a visit to the University of Washington, the school announced it was opening an office in China as liaison with the Chinese government and Chinese universities and to serve WashingtonChina. students studying in

Bhutto placed under house arrest again

LAHORE, Pakistan - Authorities mounted a massive security operation Tuesday to hold opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest for the second time in five days and prevent her from staging a 185-mile protest march against emergency rule.

An aide to Bhutto said her supporters would sweep away the barricades and allow her to embark on the planned three-day procession. However, police swiftly detained the first demonstrators to arrive at the cordon around her residence.

The showdown intensified the political crisis engulfing Pakistan and further clouded the prospect of a pro-U.S. alliance against rising Islamic extremism forming between Bhutto and President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Bhutto's aide, Sen. Safdar Abbasi, said the seven-day detention order was not binding because neither Bhutto nor one of her representatives had been served with the document.

"She will defy the ban," Abbasi told The Associated Press by telephone. "We are ready for the long march, and our supporters will remove all the police blockades in the way of their leader."

However, Aftab Cheema, the chief of operations of Lahore city police, told the AP that a Bhutto representative had received the order issued by the government of Punjab province.

"She has been detained and she won't be allowed to come out," Cheema said.

Thousands of police in riot gear blocked all roads leading to an upscale area of Lahore from where Bhutto wanted to lead the procession. A total of eight trucks or tractors pulling trailers, all of them loaded with sand, were parked across one street early Tuesday.

Police stood behind the vehicles and a row of metal barricades topped with barbed wire. The house of a lawmaker where Bhutto was staying was out of sight for reporters, who were prevented from crossing the cordon.

The protest caravan was intended meant to pressure Musharraf to end the state of emergency he imposed on Nov. 3 and give up his post as army chief. It had been expected to take about three days, and Bhutto's party said thousands of supporters were expected to join en route.

Asked to comment on Bhutto's house arrest ahead of Tuesday's protest, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "While the situation continues to evolve, we believe that peaceful protests should be permitted and those detained should be allowed to participate." -AP

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Malaysia PM defends keris at Umno assembly

November 7, 2007 - Opening the annual Umno meet at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur this morning, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said, the act of unsheathing and kissing a keris is part of our cultural heritage but its meaning has been twisted to spread fear among non-Malays, and the image of Umno and Malaysia has been smeared overseas."

"Keris is a weapon, but it is a weapon to protect yourself and your friends," he said to a round of thunderous applause from more than 2,500 delegates who turned up this morning.

It was the first time that Abdullah, who has portrayed himself as a moderate Islamic leader, to strongly defend the party since it came under intense fire from various groups including those from the non-Malay-based BN component parties.

At last year's meeting, several delegates had also during the party debates - which was broadcasted live on a satellite television channel for the first time - vowed Umno members were ready to drown themselves in blood to defend their race.

Despite calls for actions against them, they were however let off with a warning by the Umno management committee, which is made up of the party's top leaders.

"Those who would wish to inflame communal sentiments have sensationalized the words of the four Umno speakers," lamented Abdullah, in reference to the speeches made at last year Umno's meet which were deemed as 'seditious' by critics.

The brandishing of the keris, a traditional Malay dagger, which has since been a regular feature at the party's youth wing was deemed as provocative to the non-Malay communities.

“On behalf of Umno’s leaders and members, I give assurance that Umno will never breach the spirit of the understanding that has been agreed with the other communities at the time of Merdeka,” added Abdullah in his 90-minute speech.

“Opportunities in Malaysia are available to all. There is a future for every Malaysian in this country,” he said to a loud cheer from his audience.

At the same time, he said, the other communities must also appreciate the sensitivities of the Malays.

“Basic matters relating to the sanctity of religion, beliefs and practices, Malay interests and the social contract between the communities are sacred to us and should not be raised,” he added.

He also said that Umno was willing to discuss on the sensitive matters in an "effective and appropriate manner".

“We are ready to seek intelligent resolutions and win-win outcomes when dealing with sensitive issues relating to race and religion.