Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Asia Week Focus

East Asia

South Korea - An Unmitigated Disaster for Korea in Washington

The South Korean and U.S. defense chiefs in the Security Consultative Meeting in Washington on Friday agreed to complete the handover of wartime operational control of Korean forces to Seoul after Oct. 15, 2009 and no later than March 15, 2012. The two defense ministers in a joint communiqué urged North Korea to refrain from any further action that might aggravate tensions. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered assurances of a firm U.S. commitment and immediate support to South Korea, including “continuation of the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, consistent with the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

On the Proliferation Security Initiative we are so reluctant to join, Rumsfeld told reporters, "the (nuclear) programs of Iran and North Korea punctuate the importance of counter proliferations efforts of that type. And the Republic of Korea's an important country, and needless to say, we've expressed the hope that they will decide to participate (in the Proliferation Security Initiative)." In the background, a senior Pentagon official was denying reports from a South Korean briefing that Gen. Burwell Bell, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, was instructed to map out a detailed nuclear defense against nuclear threats from North Korea.

The SCM was so difficult this year that the joint communiqué had to be delayed by seven-and-a-half hours. The atmosphere was so serious, it is said, that the U.S. had to issue an ultimatum that if Seoul insisted any further, the meeting would end without a joint statement. It had a case. Seoul pestered Washington to concede on the timing of the transfer of wartime operational control of its forces and the offer of a nuclear umbrella, the main themes of the meeting, reversing its own demands of only a year or a few months ago. Seoul tried to shirk agreement on the timing of the troop control handover, after saying only recently, in the president’s words, that it could be done “any time.”

Faced with firm U.S. insistence on 2009, however, it kept putting it off, from Oct. 2010 to March 15, 2012. Had this administration and president not brought up the issue for propaganda purposes, pretending the joint exercise of wartime operational control infringed on our sovereignty and stoking anti-American sentiment by doing so, the U.S., for the sake of expanding the strategic flexibility of its forces the world over, would have asked for Korean cooperation and given additional security guarantees in return.

The same is the case with the issue of the U.S. providing South Korea with a more specific nuclear umbrella against North Korea. The government, goaded by the National Security Council under direct presidential jurisdiction, attempted to delete the phrase “nuclear umbrella” at last year’s SCM, but this year it asked for an even stronger guarantee. The U.S. said, what more do you want when you have the Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty? Seoul deserved the rebuff.

The government boasted it would get a U.S. promise of additional security if we are to exercise sole operational control of our troops. But the joint communiqué mentions only a firm U.S. commitment under the treaty and “immediate support.” It got no more than that for dismantling Combined Forces Command, which in time of war firmly guarantees the reinforcement of five fleets of aircraft carriers, 160 vessels, 2,500 aircraft and 690,000 troops.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo & Digital Chosun Ilbo

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

China - Shanghai scandal 'implicates 50'

More than 50 people have been detained in Shanghai's widening pension fund corruption scandal, a Beijing-funded Hong Kong newspaper has reported. Several senior Shanghai officials and businessmen have already been implicated in the alleged misuse of the multi-million dollar fund. One of the country's richest men, Zhang Rongkun, was arrested at the weekend.
On Sunday, President Hu Jintao said the Communist Party was determined to root out corruption.

"We are stepping up efforts to improve the rule of law and a culture for clean and honest government, and strengthen the checks and supervision on power," he said.
He also appealed for party unity at a rare joint public appearance with his predecessor Jiang Zemin.

The first high-profile head to roll in the pensions scandal was Chen Liangyu, an ally of Mr Jiang who was dismissed from his post as chief of the Communist Party in Shanghai last month.

Other leading figures tainted by the case include the head of Formula One in China, Yu Zhifei, who has been questioned by the authorities, and the country's chief statistician Qiu Xiaohua who was dismissed from his post.
Anti-corruption investigation.

Zhang Rongkun, believed to be the 16th richest man in China with a $600m fortune, was arrested by "relevant law enforcement authorities", his own firm Fuxi Investment said in a brief statement on Saturday.

Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported on Monday that more than 50 other businessmen and government officials were being held over the scandal. It did not give any further details.

As the anti-corruption investigation continues, it seems likely the number of people involved will grow still further, the BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Shanghai says.
More than 100 central government investigators have been sent to Shanghai to investigate money that has disappeared from the city's 10 billion yuan ($1.25 billion) social security fund. The funds were allegedly used to make illegal loans and investments in real estate and other infrastructure deals.
The corruption scandal demonstrates the problems facing those who wish to end graft in China, our correspondent says.
The courts do not operate independently and almost all of those detained in Shanghai have not been seen or heard of since, he adds. There is little independent oversight. Auditors and corruption investigators are limited and the usual checks and balances that expose corruption - such as a free press and regular open elections - do not exist.

Shangai pensions scandal
- Labour and social security chief, Zhu Junyi, sacked
- District governor, Qin Yu, sacked
- City's top Communist Party official, Chen Liangyu sacked
- Municipal committee's vice-secretary general, Sun Luyi, sacked
- Head of city's F1 motor racing circuit, Yu Zhifei, questioned
- Head of China's National Bureau of Statistics, Qiu Xiaohua, (pictured) sacked
- One of China's richest men, Zhang Rongkun, arrested

Source: BBC News

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

North Korea - The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea

The tragically backward, sometimes absurdist hallmarks of North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-il, are well known. There is Mr. Kim’s Elton John eyeglasses and strangely whipped, cotton-candy hairdo. And there is the North Korean “No! Yeeesssss ... No! O.K. Fear the tiger!” school of diplomacy.

A newer, more dangerous sort of North Korean eccentricity registered around 4.0 on the Richter scale earlier this month — a nuclear weapon test that has had the world’s major powers scrambling, right up through last week, to develop a policy script that would account for Mr. Kim’s new toy.

But whatever the threat — and however lush the celebrations broadcast on state-controlled television from the streets of Pyongyang in the days afterward — the stark realities of life in North Korea were perhaps most evident in a simple satellite image over the shoulder of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during an Oct. 11 briefing. The image showed the two Koreas — North and South — photographed at night.

The South was illuminated from coast to coast, suggesting that not just lights, but that other, arguably more bedrock utility of the modern age — information — was pulsating through the population.

The North was black.
This is an impoverished country where televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only government-controlled frequencies. Cellphones were banned outright in 2004. In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York ranked North Korea No. 1 — over also-rans like Burma, Syria and Uzbekistan — on its list of the “10 Most Censored Countries.”

That would seem to leave the question of Internet access in North Korea moot.
At a time when much of the world takes for granted a fat and growing network of digitized human knowledge, art, history, thought and debate, it is easy to forget just how much is being denied the people who live under the veil of darkness revealed in that satellite photograph.

While other restrictive regimes have sought to find ways to limit the Internet — through filters and blocks and threats — North Korea has chosen to stay wholly off the grid.

Julien Pain, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group which tracks censorship around the world, put it more bluntly. “It is by far the worst Internet black hole,” he said.

That is not to say that North Korean officials are not aware of the Internet.
As far back as 2000, at the conclusion of a visit to Pyongyang, Madeleine K. Albright, then secretary of state, bid Mr. Kim to “pick up the telephone any time,” to which the North Korean leader replied, “Please give me your e-mail address.” That signaled to everyone that at least he, if not the average North Korean, was cybersavvy. (It is unclear if Ms. Albright obliged.)
These days, the designated North Korean domain suffix, “.kp” remains dormant, but several “official” North Korean sites can be found delivering sweet nothings about the country and its leader to the global conversation (an example: www.kcckp.net/en/) — although these are typically hosted on servers in China or Japan.

Mr. Kim, embracing the concept of “distance learning,” has established the Kim Il-sung Open University Web site, http://www.ournation-school.com/ — aimed at educating the world on North Korea’s philosophy of “juche” or self-reliance. And the official North Korean news agency, at http://www.kcna.co.jp/, provides tea leaves that are required reading for anyone following the great Quixote in the current nuclear crisis.

But to the extent that students and researchers at universities and a few other lucky souls have access to computers, these are linked only to each other — that is, to a nationwide, closely-monitored Intranet — according to the OpenNet Initiative, a human rights project linking researchers from the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School and Cambridge and Oxford Universities in Britain.

A handful of elites have access to the wider Web — via a pipeline through China — but this is almost certainly filtered, monitored and logged.

Some small “information technology stores” — crude cybercafes — have also cropped up. But these, too, connect only to the country’s closed network. According to The Daily NK, a pro-democracy news site based in South Korea, computer classes at one such store cost more than six months wages for the average North Korean. The store, located in Chungjin, North Korea, has its own generator to keep the computers running if the power is cut, The Daily NK site said.
“It’s one thing for authoritarian regimes like China to try to blend the economic catalyst of access to the Internet with controls designed to sand off the rough edges, forcing citizens to make a little extra effort to see or create sensitive content,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford.

The problem is much more vexing for North Korea, Professor Zittrain said, because its “comprehensive official fantasy worldview” must remain inviolate. “In such a situation, any information leakage from the outside world could be devastating,” he said, “and Internet access for the citizenry would have to be so controlled as to be useless. It couldn’t even resemble the Internet as we know it.”

But how long can North Korea’s leadership keep the country in the dark?
Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea’s ban on cellphones was being breached on the black market along China’s border. And as more and more cellphones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.

Of course, there are no polls indicating whether the average North Korean would prefer nuclear arms or Internet access (or food, or reliable power), but given Mr. Kim’s interest in weapons, it is a safe bet it would not matter.
“No doubt it’s harder to make nuclear warheads than to set up an Internet network,” Mr. Pain said. “It’s all a question of priority.”

By Tom Zeller Jr.

Source: NYTimes

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

South Asia

Pakistan - Musharraf amends ‘bounty’ portion: Urdu translation of autobiography

President Gen Pervez Musharraf has made an amendment to his controversial autobiography In the Line of Fire dropping the portion relating to payment of millions of dollars to Pakistan by CIA for arresting and handing over Al Qaeda suspects to the United States.

The alteration has been included in the book’s Urdu edition titled Sub Sey Pehlay Pakistan that was launched here on Saturday.

The amendment has been made in the opening paragraph of chapter 23 titled Taaqub (Manhunt) that highlights the role Pakistan played in capturing Al Qaeda suspects after 9/11 attacks on the US.

Pointing to the fact that Pakistan had captured 689 Al Qaeda members and handed over 369 of them to the US, the president notes on page 237 of the first edition: “We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse us of ‘not doing enough’ in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the government of Pakistan.”

In the Urdu edition, the reference to having “earned bounties totalling millions of dollars” and prize money has been dropped.

Within two days of his book launch in New York President Musharraf had admitted having made a ‘mistake’ and indicated that an amendment was in order.

“That is my error. It doesn’t come to government of Pakistan. I should not have written that and I’m going to amend it in the future copy certainly,” he told journalists in New York on Sept 27.

His response to a question whether those dollars were staying in Pakistani economy was: “The money is certainly in Pakistan’s exchequer, in other words in Pakistan, its not anywhere.”

However, on being prompted by Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, the president corrected himself, saying: “In our economy. Not in the exchequer.”

The Urdu version published by Ferozsons is a hard-bound edition containing 411 pages and priced at Rs495. Initially 20,000 copies have been published.

It is believed that Sehba Musharraf and president’s former deputy military secretary Brigadier Asim Saleem Bajwa, who now commands the 111 Brigade, played an active role in the publication of the Urdu edition.

The translation itself is the work of the president’s brother-in-law. Apparently, it was on their advice that the president changed the title which according to him made more sense in the Pakistan context and as he put it: “Pakistan always remains foremost in mind.”

President Musharraf has repeatedly appreciated the ‘hard work and loyalty’ of Brigadier Bajwa, the man without whom he says his book would not have been possible.

While expressing his gratitude for Mr Bajwa again on Saturday at the book launch, the president said: “He has just been promoted.” However, he hastened to add: “But that’s not because of the book!”

By Qudssia Akhlaque

Source: DAWN Group of Newspapers

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Nepal - UN makes Nepal Maoist food pledge

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has proposed to feed Nepal's Maoist rebels and their families once a peace deal has been signed with the government.
The WFP said it would begin implementing the program as soon as the two sides reach an agreement.

The multi-party government has been negotiating with the rebels since a ceasefire came into force in April.

In recent years, the WFP has been active in impoverished, food-deficit districts in remote areas of the west.

Emergency food
"We are eagerly waiting for the outcome of the ongoing peace process before we begin the operation," WFP Resident Representative Richard Ragan told the Kantipur newspaper.

He said that the package would benefit thousands of rebel fighters and their families, as well as tens of thousands of other people who have been displaced by the insurgency.

Mr Ragan said the UN has already made a policy decision to put the plans into effect.
The UN secretary general has appointed a special representative to oversee the nascent peace process.

UN officials say that over 225,000 people from 10 western districts have benefited from a recent emergency food aid programme in western Nepal.

The BBC's Surendra Phuyal in Kathmandu says that peace talks between the Maoists and the government are now at a crucial stage.

Our correspondent says that the two sides are expected to address the issue of integrating 15,000 to 20,000 armed rebel fighters into the national army and police forces.

They also have to find a solution to the rebels' insistence that they should have the right to bear arms.

More than 13,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands of people have been displaced - mainly from the insurgency-hit districts of western and eastern hills - throughout the 10-year-old insurgency.

Source: BBC News

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka parties in talks pact

The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse, has signed an agreement with the main opposition party for a common policy in relation to the Tamil Tigers. The deal comes ahead of talks with the rebels next weekend in Geneva. The two main parties have historically been on differing ends of the political spectrum, but have now agreed to work together on key issues.

Mr Rajapakse's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led governing coalition needs opposition support.

Independent homeland
It has held discussions with the hardline anti-Tamil Tiger opposition but failed to come to a deal. The priority issue is the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has in the past supported talks with the rebels as well as a devolution of power. The Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland for more than two decades. At least 2,000 people - troops, rebels and Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim civilians - have been killed in Sri Lanka since late last year, military and truce monitors say.

By Dumeetha Luthra

Source: BBC News, Colombo

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

India - Why Afzal shouldn't hang

For centuries, criminals in most countries used to be publicly executed to the applause of mobs drunk with revenge. It's only in the 20th century that capital punishment stopped being a spectacle.

The death penalty revolted many citizens and stands abolished in nearly 130 countries. However, as we move into the age of terrorism and counter-terrorism, revenge and retribution are coming back.

The Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano says: "In a world that prefers security to justice, there is loud applause whenever justice is sacrificed at the altar of security." Galeano believes executions have "a pharmaceutical effect" on the elite. Pharmacy is derived from the Greek pharmakos - "humans sacrificed to the Gods in times of crises."

A section of Indian society wants just such pharmaceutical relief through the hanging of Mohammed Afzal for the Parliament House attack of 2001.

A medieval lynch mob is being mobilised through lurid media stories which say the families of the victims of the attack cannot get justice unless Afzal is hanged. There must be no clemency for a traitor. He must die.

It is unspeakably sad that rank blood-thirst and chauvinist ultra-nationalism are disguised as an innocuous demand for justice. All manner of arguments are cited to claim that the president has no power to pardon Afzal.

However, former Solicitor General TR Andhyarujina has clarified that the power of pardon is not an individual act of grace, but is an integral part of the criminal justice system and India's constitutional scheme. It doesn't interfere with the courts.

The president is entitled to re-appraise a case, and come to a conclusion different from the court's. The purpose of the clemency power is to ensure that "the public welfare would be better served by inflicting less punishment than what the judgment has fixed."

President Kalam, acting on the cabinet's advice, should take a fresh look at Afzal's case. It is his constitutional and moral duty to ensure that there are no grey areas in the evidence on which Afzal was convicted.

Consider the facts. Afzal was not the mastermind or chief conspirator in the Parliament attack. He didn't commit murder or participate in the attack. Yet, he was sentenced to death for murder (Sec 302 of the Indian Penal Code), waging war against the state (Sec 121 and 121A), and criminal conspiracy (Sec 120A & B).

The punishment is, prima facie, excessive and disproportionate.

The investigation was completed in just 17 days by Assistant Commissioner Rajbir Singh of the Delhi police's anti-terrorism "Special Cell." A self-confessed "encounter specialist," Singh stands disgraced for extortion and corruption.

Huge gaps remain in the sequence of events, links between Afzal and the claimed masterminds (Jaish-e-Mohammed's Masood Azhar and Ghazi Baba), and the attackers' identity.

The biggest gaps pertain to the role of the J&K police's Special Task Force to whom Afzal, a former JKLF militant, surrendered. Afzal claims - without being contradicted - that he met Tariq Ahmad at an STF camp. Tariq took him to a police officer, Dravinder Singh, who introduced him to Mohammad alias Burger, named as the leader of the attackers.

Afzal brought Mohammad to Delhi, and helped him buy the car used in the attack. But he says Dravinder and Tariq ordered him to do this. Here, the investigation goes cold. There's no trace of Tariq or Dravinder. In the murky world of Kashmir's insurgency-counter-insurgency, it is hard to pinpoint crime and complicity. And it's a mystery why the police knew nothing about the activities of a closely-monitored surrendered militant. Circumstantial evidence of Afzal's involvement in conspiracy hinges on the recovery of explosives, and crucially, on records of cell phone calls to the five attackers.

However, the police couldn't explain why they broke into Afzal's house to recover explosives during his absence - when the landlord had the key. The cell phone record traced several calls from the five men to number 98114.89429 - allegedly belonging to an instrument seized from Afzal. The instrument had no SIM card. The only identity mark was its IMEI number, unique to each instrument. How did the police discover the IMEI number? There are only two ways: open the instrument, or dial a code and have the number displayed. But the officer certifying the recovery swore that he neither opened nor operated the instrument.

Besides, the claimed dates of purchase of the phone (December 4) and its first recorded operation (November 6) don't match! This large grey area in the evidence puts a big question-mark over the conclusion that Afzal must be awarded the severest punishment.

Afzal's personal deposition describes how he was drawn into secessionist militancy, but got disillusioned. After surrendering he was harassed and subjected to extortion by the STF. The picture that emerges is that of a person who isn't beyond reform.

Afzal's death sentence violates the Supreme Court's guidelines, which say that sentence should be awarded in "the rarest of rare cases" - when a murder is extremely brutal, grotesque or diabolical, or targets a community or caste. This doesn't apply to Afzal.

The judiciary has often distinguished between an act's commission and conspiracy to commit it. Nathuram Godse was hanged for Gandhiji's assassination, but not his fellow-conspirator Gopal.

In the Purulia arms-drop case - India's worst-ever security breach - the state commuted the life sentence of six men. Five ethnic-Russian Latvians were freed at the Russian government's request. Peter Bleach was freed in 2004 at the urgings of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The reasons for releasing them involved political relations with foreign governments.
In Afzal's case there are more persuasive reasons. The government must apply the "public welfare" test and take a statesman-like view based on a compassionate and humane vision.

Finally, we must recall the all-important moral argument against capital punishment. It violates a principle at the heart of any civilised society - prohibiting the planned killing of a person. Capital punishment does not deter heinous crime. All legal systems are fallible. It's immoral to extinguish a human life by assuming the opposite.

By Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist.

Source: The Daily Star

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Southeast Asia

Burma - Burma discusses version of democracy

Burma has been ruled by the military for 44 years, but that could be about to change if the lofty goals set by the country's National Convention are met. Delegates to the convention, which has been meeting for most of this month, said they expected it to finish its work on a new constitution by next year - thereby completing the first stage of the military's so-called "seven stage path to democracy".

This year foreign journalists were given rare access to the opening stages of the meeting.

To get to the Nyaung Hna Pin camp, where the convention is taking place, we drove through flat, flooded fields, a landscape akin to a tropical Holland.
Armed soldiers guarded the entrance, and gave our bus a cursory check for possible bombs.

This might be where Burma's political future is being mapped out, but ordinary Burmese have not been invited.

Only the 1,086 delegates, and their military guards, get to see the process first hand. The delegates are confined to the camp for weeks at a time, with only a karaoke bar and a small outdoor cinema for entertainment.
Unusual 'democracy'

The delegates arrived at the opening session of the convention in full ethnic finery - a requirement to give the impression that the meeting represents all of Burma's people. Inside the hall, I saw crudely printed signs for other groups, labelled Peasants, Workers, Intellectuals and Intelligentsia.

But almost every one of the delegates has been hand-picked by the military, and none felt comfortable talking to foreign journalists.

"It might not produce a democracy that you are used to," Professor Tun Aung Chain told me. "It could be quite different, according to the present situation in the country".

Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, the information minister, was less equivocal.
"There are 30 countries that still have unelected members of parliament," he said, "Even in Britain, your upper house has unelected members".

I pointed out that in Britain, these were not serving officers in an army that has run the country for nearly half a century, but he brushed that point aside.
The military is running the National Convention, and intends to keep a deciding role over any future government. One clause in the new constitution which is not negotiable is that the president must have had at least 15 years of military service.
A thorn in the side of the military's plans is the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which won more than 80% of the seats in the last election 16 years ago.

It has boycotted the National Convention since 1995, saying it does not want to take part in a process so dominated by the armed forces. In the opening speech at the meeting - against a monumental backdrop reminiscent of party congresses from the old Soviet Union - the NLD got no mention from General Thein Sein, the fourth-ranking officer in Burma who is running the convention.

He merely referred to "destructive elements" whom, he claimed, were using terrorist methods to undermine the convention.

His speech was peppered with claims of dramatic improvements that the country has supposedly enjoyed under military rule. Dialogue with the NLD is ruled out by the generals. They accuse the party of being stubborn, confrontational and under the influence of "foreign powers".

'Accelerating impoverishment'
There is a very different reality away from the remote world of the convention. Rangoon is a dilapidated city, its once magnificent colonial buildings crumbling, and even more recent concrete towers showing signs of neglect. The city feels several decades behind those in neighbouring countries. If there has been any economic progress over the past decade, it is impossible to see.

"The situation is one of accelerating impoverishment for a significant proportion of the population," I was told by Charles Petrie, who heads the UN assistance operations in Burma.

The NLD headquarters in Rangoon seems afflicted by the same decay that you see elsewhere in the city.

The building is dark and quiet. Going there requires some nerve, even as a journalist on an officially-approved visa, as there are military spooks watching and taking note of everyone going in and out.

How much more intimidating it must be for Burmese citizens to go there.
But there are always groups of people gathered at the office, either for political discussions or other classes, surrounded by piled up chairs, bundles of fading documents, and walls covered in portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi - who is just a stone's throw away, kept in isolation in her house by the military.
I have to remind myself that people have been jailed, tortured and killed just for supporting the NLD.

"We are still functioning," said NLD spokesman Henthe Myint. "You can see by the military's anxiety to discredit us that we are still a political force in this country."

It is all too obvious that the years of harassment have ground the NLD down, limiting it to just a token presence in most of the country.

But that shabby office in Rangoon still felt more real than the stage-managed performance we were shown at the National Convention.
The military is confident it will have a new constitution within a year - but it will be a document over which the Burmese people will have no say.

By Jonathan Head BBC South East Asia correspondent

Source: BBC News

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Timor LoroSae - Outbreak of violence halted in East Timor

Dili, East Timor United Nations peacekeepers were brought in Sunday to restore order to the capital of East Timor when fighting broke out between rival ethnic gangs after the discovery of two mutilated bodies.

The fighting - mostly stone-throwing - took place at the Comoro market but was halted by the arrival of about 100 peacekeeping troops. No arrests were made.

A group from the eastern part of the country became incensed after bodies of two men from the Baucau and Lautém districts were found with their arms, legs and heads removed and placed in sacks.

The two were believed to have been killed after approaching a checkpoint set up by a group of western youths in the Aimutin area of Dili.

"We just cannot accept that our friends were killed like animals, like dogs," said João da Costa, 21, a member of the eastern district group, which had set up a checkpoint of its own near the market.

A UN peacekeeper, Emir Bilget, speaking through an interpreter, asked the eastern group to take down the blockade of stones and wood and allow the police to investigate.

"I hope you calm down. The police already know who killed your friends, and now we are seeking testimony from you so that the perpetrators can be taken to court," Bilget said.

Australian soldiers, who lead the UN contingent, arrived and immediately combed the area.

They aborted an attempt to detain one man there after protests from youths shouting, "Australia go out, Australian no good, not neutral."

The peacekeeping force, which also includes soldiers from New Zealand and Malaysia, was deployed in East Timor in May after large sections of the military deserted, but it has struggled to contain sporadic eruptions of violence. The latest fighting follows tit-for-tat murders this month that claimed the lives of two young men - one each from the eastern and western parts of the country.

Source: Agence France - Presse

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Vietnam - Warning on Viet corals

Vietnamese marine scientists warn that one of the country's premier coral reefs has been nearly destroyed by fishing practices using explosives and poison. Up to 85 percent of corals had died around Co To Island, near the World Heritage-listed island seascape of Halong Bay, warned the National Agency of Aquatic Resources Protection and a group of oceanographers.

Besides dynamite and cyanide fishing, corals were also being crushed by ship anchors and smothered by seaweed that has proliferated due to overfishing, said Chu Tien Vinh, head of the agency.

The group of researchers proposed the Quang Ninh provincial fisheries department ban fishing and prevent ships from anchoring around the Co To archipelago.
Vietnam, with a 3,200-kilometer coastline, has boasted a rich and diverse marine ecology with 1,100 square kilometers of reefs, but the World Resources Institute has warned that over 95 percent of it is severely threatened.

Destructive human activities include overfishing, coastal developments for tourism and industry, pollution and sedimentation, and fishing practices such as drift net fishing that scours the ocean floor. Vietnamese scientists last week also called for the setting up of a marine reserve around southern Phu Quoc island, to save the coral and marine life around the island that is now being rapidly developed for tourism.

Source: Agence France – Press

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Central Asia

Iran - Iran invites West to return to nuclear talks

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki on Saturday invited the major Western powers to return to the negotiating table to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
“We advise them to return to negotiations and not to retry the path that they have already tried,” Mottaki told reporters at a joint press conference after a meeting with Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.

Mottaki stated that Tehran sees no reason for suspending uranium enrichment.
“Enrichment of uranium by the Islamic Republic is legal and one of its rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),” he said.

All the inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities indicate no deviation toward weaponization, he added.

Despite intensive talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Union on October 17 referred Iran’s nuclear dossier back to the UN Security Council, which is now working on a resolution that would impose economic sanctions against Tehran.

Measures like the Security Council action are tools used to deprive the Iranian people of their rights, Mottaki observed.

“We regard comparing our peaceful nuclear activities with any kind of nuclear weapons test as unacceptable and unrealistic,” he added.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana held a series of talks last month to find a solution to the crisis.

Mottaki expressed regret that the West did not handle the Larijani-Solana talks constructively but added that Iran still believes that the negotiations can continue.
“We hope the Security Council comes to its senses and lives up to its responsibilities. Unfortunately, the council’s record over the past year has not been satisfactory,” he said.

“However, we hope the issue returns to the International Atomic Energy Agency.” Accusations that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to peace are only being made by the United States to help it reach its political goals, but Tehran expects the Europeans to pursue the issue logically and independently, the Iranian foreign minister said.

Mottaki stated that he and the Belarusian foreign minister discussed issues of mutual interest and prepared the documents for bilateral agreements which are to be finalized during President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s next visit to Belarus.

He also thanked Belarusian officials for supporting Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology. Martynov called his negotiations with Iranian officials positive, saying, “During the talks we discussed international and regional issues and economic, financial, and trade cooperation.”

Tehran and Minsk are in consensus on many international issues, especially on the idea that the world should be multilateral and not unilateral, he said.
Belarus also believes that Iran, as an NPT signatory, has the right to conduct any nuclear activity authorized by the treaty, Martynov noted.

Source: Tehran Times

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Afghanistan - UN warns of Afghan food shortage

Nearly two million people in southern Afghanistan will need food aid this winter because of drought, the UN and Afghan government have warned. They have appealed for more than $40m in emergency funds, in addition to an earlier appeal for $76m. Afghanistan is facing a shortfall in its wheat harvest just after beginning to recover from an earlier drought. The crop failure comes as fighting continues in the south between Nato-led troops and the Taleban.

The food shortage is being blamed on intensified fighting against Taleban insurgents in the troubled southern provinces and expanding cultivation of opium poppies instead of food.

In July, UK charity Christian Aid warned that millions of people in Afghanistan faced starvation after a drought destroyed crops. A survey of 66 villages suggested farmers in the worst affected areas had lost all their produce. Less than half of the $76m in emergency funds sought in July have been received so far.

Source: BBC News

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Australia – Telstra stake purchased by Japanese investors

The Australian government sold a 435 million Australian dollar, or $330 million, stake in Telstra, the nation's biggest telephone company, to individual Japanese investors, Finance Minister Nick Minchin of Australia, said Monday.

A minimum of 120 million shares will be allocated to Japanese investors, Minchin said. The government said Sunday that it had sold half of a planned 8 billion dollar offering in Telstra through stockbrokers and financial planners.

"This is another pleasing indication of the level of interest by the investing community," Minchin said in a statement released in Canberra. "Japanese investors like stocks that offer a good yield."

The government, which owns more than half of Telstra, pitched an offer with inducements like a discount and free shares as it tries to sell a stock that has plunged more than 50 percent since 1999. Investors in the share sale, dubbed T3, get a dividend yield of 14 percent in the first year, more than 10 times the yield of Japanese five-year government bonds.

Overseas investors own 7 percent of shares in Telstra, compared with 73 percent for Telecom Corporation, the largest New Zealand telephone company.

Prime Minister John Howard of Australia on Aug. 25 retreated from plans to sell the government's entire 51.8 percent stake in Telstra, currently worth 23.4 billion dollars, after a slump in earnings and a yearlong clash with management over regulations.

The rest of the government's stake will go into the Future Fund, an investment pool to cover pension liabilities for politicians, defense workers and bureaucrats.

The government has left open the option of increasing the share sale by 1.2 billion dollars through an over-allotment option, known as a greenshoe.

The public offering may be increased to 12 billion dollars if demand is sufficient, the Financial Times reported last month, citing unidentified people close to the sales team.

ABN AMRO Holding, Goldman Sachs JBWere and UBS were hired last year to manage the share sale.

The chief executive of Telstra, Sol Trujillo, cut his earnings forecasts earlier this month, due to rules that allow rivals cheaper access to his network.

Annual growth in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization are expected to be about 2.5 percent, down from a previous forecast of 5 percent.

Telstra stock has fallen 28 percent since Trujillo took over in July 2005 as he clashed with the government and regulators and cut earnings forecasts. At the same time, customers have shifted from high-margin landline phones to less profitable wireless and Internet services.

By Fergus Maguire

Source: Bloomberg News

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Written: by LuisB

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Asia Week Focus


A gradualist approach on Indo-Pakistan issues
India and Pakistan will strive to arrive at a "common understanding" on demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier before the next round of the composite dialogue in January.

A Joint Statement issued at the end of the two-day talks between External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, here on Tuesday suggested a forward movement on Siachen. It listed a number of steps contemplated by both sides to take bilateral ties to a new level.

Siachen, considered a possible confidence-building measure (CBM), is bogged down in differences over the conditions for withdrawal of troops from the glacier as per the 1989 understanding. India's insistence on the demarcation of areas under control by both sides is not acceptable to Pakistan. Islamabad's stand is that withdrawal has to be unconditional and it is not prepared to certify Indian "aggression."

Integrated approach
The latest understanding is to take an "integrated" approach. It involves six identified issues related to the glacier and working towards a common understanding before Siachen is taken up as one of the eight subjects under the third round of the composite dialogue. The six areas are: from where the troops are moving; where they will move to; how to define the areas of disengagement; a regime to monitor the implementation of disengagement; a verification mechanism on dos and don'ts on the glacier and what is to be done about NJ 9842.
According to a senior official privy to the two-day parleys, the decision to move forward on Siachen has been taken in the wake of a direction from the leadership of both countries to expedite a resolution. "We have understood each other's position better though there is no agreement yet," Mr. Kasuri, flanked by Mr. Singh, told a crowded press conference.

Concrete ideas exchanged
Earlier in the day, at a meeting between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Mr. Singh, they welcomed the ongoing discussions on the "framework" to work out a mutually acceptable solution on Siachen. At the joint press conference with Mr. Singh, the Pakistani Minister said "concrete ideas" on Siachen had been exchanged and the two sides would continue discussions for reaching a common understanding.

That the bilateral relations are headed for a leap was also evident from the decision of the India-Pakistan Joint Commission, revived after a gap of 16 years, to take a close look at the possibilities of expanded cooperation in nine different areas. These include agriculture, health, science and technology, information and education.

Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Singh talked about the commitment of both sides to make a "sincere and purposeful" settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir issue as well. They reaffirmed that terrorism would not be allowed to impede a solution and maintained that possible options for a peaceful, negotiated settlement should be explored in a "sincere, purposeful and forward-looking manner."

Expressing satisfaction over the smooth operation of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, the statement said experts from the two sides would meet for launching a truck service between the two points and a bus link between Poonch and Rawalakot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir expeditiously. It was agreed that an expert-level meeting would be held by the year-end to finalise the modalities on the meeting points for the divided families across the LoC.

At the press briefing, the Minister said India had presented draft proposals on visa liberalisation, consular access and allowing more pilgrims to religious shrines on both sides.
Gas pipeline project

Setting at rest apprehensions about the fate of the $7.4-billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, in the wake of New Delhi supporting the IAEA resolution against Iran's controversial nuclear programme, the two sides affirmed their commitment to the project, saying it would contribute significantly to the prosperity and development of the two countries. Before leaving for Karachi, Mr. Singh exchanged views with Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on the bilateral relationship.

On Sir Creek, without prejudice to each other's position, they agreed to undertake a joint survey in the marshy land of Rann of Kutch off the Gujarat coast and consider options for the delimitation of the maritime boundary. This will begin before the year-end and its report will be considered at the next round of the composite dialogue.

It was agreed that a meeting of experts would be held here on October 25 and 26 to start the Nankana Sahib-Amritsar bus service at an early date. A technical-level meeting would be held before the end of this year to discuss arrangements for operationalising the Rawalakot-Poonch bus link as early as possible.


Beijing shuts down two Web sites in crackdown
Chinese authorities have shut down an online discussion forum that reported on anti-corruption protests in a village in the south as well as a Web site serving ethnic Mongolians, overseas monitors said yesterday.

China routinely shuts down or blocks Web sites that operate outside of government control, but the issue has received heightened international attention recently with the publication of new rules aimed at stifling online dissent.

Radio Free Asia, a US-based broadcaster, said an online forum that covered protests in the village of Taishi has been closed. It said the site had been popular among academics, journalists and rights activists. Residents of Taishi, which is near Guangzhou, have demanded their village chief be sacked and investigated for allegations of embezzlement and fraud.

Several people were reportedly injured in a clash with police last month when they tried to prevent police from seizing accounting ledgers that they said contained evidence of corruption.
The Taishi protest came amid a series of increasingly bold actions by villagers to bring attention to grievances ranging from pollution to illegal land seizures.

Meanwhile, the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said an online forum for Mongolian students, called www.ehoron.com, had been closed for allegedly hosting separatist content. Attempts yesterday to view the page called up a message that said: "You are not authorized to view this page."

The press group said Beijing's controls on ethnic minorities were more restrictive than for the rest of China's population. It said the government also temporarily closed the Web site of a law firm in Inner Mongolia, called www.monhgal.com. That site could be accessed yesterday.


Japan plans huge job cuts
Japan decided Tuesday to cut about 33,230 jobs, or 10 percent of its civilian work force, over the next five years.

The move comes after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was voted back into office in a landslide victory last month after campaign promises to cut spending and the size of the government.

Koizumi's cabinet on Tuesday approved the plan to reduce the government work force of 331,000. But the plan, which would cut 5,549 civil servant jobs for fiscal year 2005 and 27,681 jobs from 2006 to 2009, does not factor in separate personnel increases.

Government ministries have asked for more than 5,000 extra employees in the budget for next year. The Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun predicted that these increases would mean that the net number of government employees would fall by less than 2 percent, far below the 5 percent net decrease recommended by the Japanese Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy last week. The departments most affected by the plan include the agriculture and health ministries. It does not affect the country's defense forces.

"It is a task politicians should tackle as it would be impossible for bureaucrats," the minister of internal affairs, Taro Aso, said of the job cuts. The reductions would be achieved by natural attrition or relocating employees, a ministry official said.


Japan strengthens controls against human trafficking
Japan's Cabinet yesterday approved legislation to tighten controls on human trafficking as part of its efforts to counter global criticism that Tokyo is lax on the sex trade.

Sex businesses would be fined up to US$8,800 under the legislation if they employ foreign women without the right to work.

Currently there is no penalty.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet will soon send the bill to parliament, which is in session until Nov. 1, said a spokesman for the National Police Department.
Passage is virtually assured as Koizumi's coalition enjoys a strong majority after last month's election. The government could not pass the legislation in the last parliament before Koizumi dissolved it in August for the polls.

Japan has taken a series of measures against trafficking since the US last year put its close ally on a watch list of countries with serious problems.

Japan this year began tightening rules on "entertainer" visas often used to bring in sex slaves, despite protests from the Philippines which worried that legitimate workers would suffer.

In June parliament voted to make human trafficking a specific offense for the first time. The crime carries up to 10 years in prison for selling another person for sex, to take their organs or use them for other commercial purposes. The law also allows authorities to jail a buyer for up to five years and grants victims of trafficking special permits so they will not immediately be deported.


Working for Malaysia's workers
Volunteers at Tenaganita, a leading Malaysian-based rights group that works with migrant workers, cheer when grim-looking authorities pay them a visit. They see harassment by officials as an unmistakable sign that they are on the job.

This week though, Tenaganita volunteers were cheering for a different reason - the non-governmental organization's (NGO's) founder and director, Irene Fernandez, had just won the 2005 Right Livelihood Award that is also called the alternative Nobel Prize.

For Tenaganita (Women's Force) volunteers, the award that honors pioneers of "justice, fair trade and cultural renewal", was the best recognition yet of their work - protecting migrant workers and changing attitudes in this affluent country.

"The award recognizes our work and brings into focus the plight of hundreds and thousands of migrant workers who suffer constant abuse, harassment and exploitation," an elated Fernandez told IPS. "The recognition will spur us to work even harder."

Fernandez founded Tenaganita in 1991 and turned it into a premier NGO that helps battered maids, women with HIV/AIDS and Malaysia's plantation workers, sidelined by mainstream development. Though recognized abroad for its work, it is a different matter at home, and Fernandez and her volunteers often find themselves maligned for their commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless.

A one-year jail sentence hangs over Fernandez for publishing "false news". Her passport has been seized, and she needs to apply for temporary release of the document from authorities each time she travels abroad.

It was a report she published in 1995, detailing horrific living conditions, beatings and harassment meted out to migrant workers at detention camps that landed her in trouble. She was charged with maliciously publishing false news and sentenced in 2003 to one year in jail. She has appealed the sentence, but strangely, no date has been fixed for a hearing.

Malaysia's government-controlled media malign her and Tenaganita as "traitors and anti-nationals", but to the many migrant workers, whose cause she untiringly champions, she is a hero.

The prize of two million Swedish kronor (US$257,000) will be shared with Canadian anti free-trade and rights activists Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke as well as Roy Sesana, an advocate for the rights of the Kalahari indigenous people of Botswana, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation said in a statement.

More than 70 candidates from 39 countries were nominated for the award this year. The award, established in 1980, was announced in Stockholm on Thursday by its founder Jacob von Uexkull, a former member of the European parliament. The prizes will be awarded at the Swedish parliament December 9.

Jacob said in an e-mailed statement that Fernandez was honored for her "outstanding and courageous work to stop violence against women, to stop abuses of migrants and poor workers in Malaysia".

"For many people this is no longer an alternative [to the Nobel Prize], this is the new mainstream," he said emphasizing that the laureates do not just offer "hope and inspiration, but actual practical support and solutions".

"She is a very brave woman who has continued to work for poor workers even after she was sentenced to one year in prison," he said.

Fernandez has a three-decade record as a grassroots campaigner, which reads like the history of the NGO movement in Malaysia. She was in on every issue - consumerism, women's rights, education, freedom, democracy, migrant workers and HIV/AIDS. She is also a senior member of the National Justice Party of opposition icon, Anwar Ibrahim.

A visit to her 14th-floor office tells a lot about her ideals. Portraits of Ibrahim and Che Guevara adorn the walls as does a quote from the South American Marxist revolutionary that says: "To Resist is to Win".

"We only live once," she told IPS. "That is why life is precious for each one of us. Life is nurtured, protected, secured but for more and more people, life is being threatened. As globalization grips us, inequalities sharpen, and the divide between the north and south increases. Poverty is one major factor that threatens life.

"In Asia more than 600 million people go to bed hungry. Workers are treated as commodities and not human beings."

Over the past 14 years, Tenaganita has championed the causes of lowly migrant workers, young women trafficked into prostitution, undocumented workers arrested and held for months without trial in detention camps and domestic workers violently abused and raped. It has also brought out the horrors of working women in Malaysia's infamous rubber and oil palm plantations where working hours are long and life dangerous.

"I started as a teacher where I saw the effects of poverty on poor urban students - it was terrible," said Fernandez, mother of three grown children. "The students were hungry, lost, neglected and very depressed."

In 1976, she joined the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP), which then was the leading advocate of consumer issues and growing to be an influential grassroots organization.

"At CAP I had a well-rounded experience forming consumer clubs, organizing workers and farmers, and fighting big multinationals like the giants making infant food formula," she said.

From CAP she moved to another consumer association in 1985 and took up feminist causes, researched and organized women workers, opposed violence against women and raised issues such as domestic violence, exploitation of women in the media and gender bias.

The year 1987 was a turning point for Fernandez and many other activists in Malaysia. This was a time when the government came down hard on a democracy movement, arresting more than 100 opposition politicians, activists and reformists.

Although Fernandez was not arrested, her work was badly affected and fear gripped activists in grassroots organizations. The government-controlled media also portrayed NGOs as enemies of the people.

After a break of a few years, spent reading and soul-searching, she was back in the fray, founding Tenaganita in 1991 as her vehicle for change.

The 1990s was a time of sustained economic boom that saw some three million undocumented workers pouring into Malaysia to work in the factories, construction sites and plantations.

With abuse, maltreatment and exploitation at a high, Tenaganita set up telephone counseling and research and services providing legal aid and representations to the government on behalf of migrant workers.

When she was found guilty of publishing false news by saying that migrant workers' detention centers were overcrowded, food substandard and medical care negligible, activists and others were certain it was a case of the state getting back at her.

"To me, the trial and the conviction are a symbol of our victory and their defeat because it shows we have achieved success in our work and that is why the oppressor is angry and wielding the axe," Fernandez said. "We have to press on."
Write: by Baradan Kuppusamy, in Kuala Lumpur


Iran faces hard realities after the IAEA vote
Iran’s hardline political leadership is scrambling to find a way to ease growing international pressure related to Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran may even be probing for a way to open direct negotiations with the United States.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution September 24 that cleared the way for the UN Security Council to take up the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran maintains that its nuclear research is designed solely for peaceful purposes, including increasing the country’s nuclear power-generating capacity. Western nations, in particular the United States, suspect that Tehran strives to produce nuclear weapons.

According to the IAEA resolution, Iran must immediately undertake verifiable measures to reassure that its nuclear program is peaceful in nature, including opening up facilities to broad inspections by IAEA experts. Iranian officials lambasted the resolution as “unjust and illogical.” At the same time, Tehran has given no indication that it will comply with the conditions for keeping the matter out of the UN Security Council.

The nuclear program enjoys wide support in Iran and it is unlikely that the country’s political leadership, led by new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will significantly alter the existing research course. Indeed, most Iranian political leaders appear convinced that the issue is destined to land in the Security Council. Tehran’s diplomatic attention is now focusing on an effort to dilute an increasingly likely Security Council resolution on the matter. At a news briefing on October 4, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said Iran would use all resources at its disposal to secure its interests, the IRNA news agency reported.

There are several indicators that Tehran is contemplating a radical diplomatic departure, namely an attempt to open up a direct channel of communication with Iran’s longtime nemesis, the United States.

In late September, following the adoption of the IAEA resolution, prominent Iranian political politician Hashemi Rafsanjani traveled to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, to convey a diplomatic message to members of the Saudi royal family. The Saudis have served in the past as a go-between for Iran and the United States. The precise content of the diplomatic message remains a tightly guarded secret. But it is known that Rafsanjani embarked on the mission with the apparent blessing of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Recent statements by influential experts and commentators with close ties to the hardliner leadership offer clues concerning the message delivered to the Saudis. In a September 28 speech, for example, Hassan Abbasi - a former Revolutionary Guards officer who now heads the National Security and Strategic Research Center, a far-right think tank – called for the normalization of relations with both the United States and Israel.

“It is self-defeating to talk with subservient or second-tier countries and stay away from the principal sources of power,” Abbasi said during his speech at Karaj College. “Why should people get upset with my words? It makes no sense not to have relations with the United States and Israel.”

Prior to the IAEA resolution, Iranian diplomacy had concentrated on trying to drive a wedge between the European Union – led by Britain, France and Germany – and the United States. After Ahmadinejad came to power in June, he reshuffled Iran’s diplomatic team and reoriented Iran’s international focus, trying to cultivate the backing of China, India and Russia. It was hoped that the expansion of Iran’s economic ties with all three countries, in particular in the energy sphere, would translate into increased political support for Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.
This so-called “Eastern turn” proved to be a diplomatic debacle, as China, India and Russia all were unwilling to support Iran in the vote on the IAEA resolution. China and Russia abstained in the voting, while India approved of the September 24 resolution. During his news conference, Asefi indicated that the IAEA resolution might prompt Iran to re-evaluate its economic ties with some countries. “Iran’s economic cooperation with other states depends on political decision, but we should not make any haste,” Asefi said.

Abbasi, the hardliner political scientist, characterized both Iran’s cultivation of the EU-3 and its “Eastern turn” as diplomatic dead-ends. Yet, while Iranian leaders may be sounding out Washington about the possibility of a nuclear deal, there is no sign that US officials are open to dialogue on the matter.

The United States is reportedly exerting pressure on Russia to suspend nuclear cooperation with Iran, including assistance in completing the Bushehr nuclear power facility. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Work on the plant is scheduled to be completed in 2006.

Iran announced October 4 that it is willing to re-open unconditional talks with the EU on the nuclear issue. Those talks broke down in August after Iran resumed the conversion of uranium in violation of a late 2004 agreement with the EU-3. EU officials have said Iran must again suspend the conversion of uranium before talks can begin anew. In addition, Iranian leaders have suggested that if the nuclear issue is referred to the Security Council, Iran might consider withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As Iran enters a crucial phase of the diplomatic struggle over the nuclear program, Iranian policy-makers feel that they are operating from a position of relative strength. Iran’s regional geopolitical position is stronger today than it was when Iran’s secret nuclear program first came to light in 2003. In particular, Iran now wields considerable influence in neighboring Iraq, a fact that potentially complicates international efforts to intensify the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. In addition, Ahmadinejad’s presidential election win has given conservatives control of the country’s entire political machinery.


Uzbek government exerting pressure on local NGOS to close “voluntarily”
Authorities in Uzbekistan are pressing a campaign to smother the country’s non-governmental sector, reportedly forcing local NGOs to apply for “voluntary” liquidation.

President Islam Karimov’s administration has come to link NGO activity with the so-called “color revolution” phenomenon, in which popular protests toppled entrenched leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek authorities moved to contain international NGOs within months of Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003, targeting the Open Society Assistance Foundation (OSAF) office in Tashkent. The foundation’s closure occurred less than a month after Uzbekistan was hit by an abortive uprising carried out by Islamic militants.

The most recent high-profile NGO closure was that of the Internews Network, a California-based media-development organization. Less publicized, but with equally serious consequences for Uzbekistan’s civil society development, the Uzbek government has targeted local NGOs, especially those that operate in the Ferghana Valley, scene of the Andijan massacre in May. The NGO crackdown has significantly expanded in scope during the post-Andijan period, local human rights activists contend.

According to Uzbek sources, hundreds of NGOs, most of them operating with miniscule budgets and small staffs, have been forced to cease activities. In many cases, NGO activists have been forced to “voluntarily apply for self-liquidation.” Those who resist government pressure face “serious trouble,” including possible arrest and imprisonment. Those who comply with the government’s request have not been harassed, according to a source with knowledge of the NGO crackdown, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Abdusalom Ergashev, Ferghana-based human rights defender, said Uzbek authorities are particularly interested in closing down NGOs that have received funding from public or private entities in the United States and/or European Union. Even before NGOs faced pressure to cease operations, they were coming under scrutiny during the weeks and months prior to the Andijan events. The head of one NGO, an entity that offered legal advice to poor Uzbeks in Ferghana Province, reported that immediately following the March 24 revolution in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Uzbek authorities began freezing NGO bank accounts and tracing wire transfers. Ultimately, the Ministry of Justice ordered the closure of the legal-aid NGO, claiming that its “activities did not fit its charter.” The NGO’s subsequent appeals were dismissed by Uzbek courts.

“Many NGOs’ closures have gone unnoticed,” Ergashev said. “Nobody can challenge their [officials’] decisions. No complaints will ever reach Tashkent. Even if they do, they will be merely returned to local authorities.”

Uzbek authorities have denied targeting local NGOs for closure. Akbar Nabirayev, an official with Justice Ministry’s Department for Public Organization Registration, maintained that the government has merely been fulfilling its regulatory responsibilities. Some NGOs existed only on paper, Nabirayev claimed, adding that the state had an obligation to close such NGOs down. Nabirayev also claimed that official statistics show that out of 4,825 registered non-governmental organizations, only 175 have ceased operations in recent months. Justice Ministry officials claim that many NGOs engage in improper financial practices.

NGO activists maintain that the actual number of NGOs closed down during the post-Andijan period approaches 3,000, including many of the largest and best-developed local non-governmental entities in Uzbekistan. In the Ferghana Valley alone, 1,600 registered NGOs have been forced to cease operations, they assert.


Brisbane to host Asia-Pacific bird flu summit
Australia is bringing together a host of experts from the region to discuss the threat posed by avian influenza.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer says a high-level meeting has been organised for the end of the month in Brisbane.
It will bring together pandemic and disaster experts from the Asia-Pacific economic group, APEC.

Mr Downer says the objective of the meeting is to make sure there is a swift and coordinated regional response to contain any outbreak of bird flu.

"We obviously want to make sure that APEC's role is taken further and in terms of coordinating an Asia Pacific response, APEC is by far the best vehicle to do that," he said.

The Federal Opposition says it is worried the regional summit may be too little, too late.
Labor has welcomed the move, but foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd says such a conference should have been held much earlier to ensure countries were better prepared for the risks posed by the disease.

"It's better late than never, but we are concerned that there is so much more to be done, and there is very little time left and most of this year has been wasted," Mr Rudd said.

"My responsibility as the shadow foreign minister is to apply continued political pressure on Mr Downer to do the right thing by the region, we are desperately concerned about the amount of time that has been wasted."
More than 60 people are confirmed or are suspected to have died from bird flu throughout Asia since 2003.
Source: ABC Online, Australia


2 executives convicted in Samsung swap
A court on Tuesday convicted two Samsung executives of arranging deals nearly a decade ago to transfer corporate control of the Samsung conglomerate from father to son.

The Seoul Central District Court convicted Hur Tae Hak - a former chief executive of Everland, a Samsung unit that runs the largest amusement park in South Korea - and the unit's current chief, Park Ro Bin, on charges of selling convertible bonds at prices lower than their market value. They sold the bonds to the children of Lee Kun Hee, chairman of Samsung, in 1996, and were indicted in 2003.

The sale is believed to have generated more than 97 billion won, or $93.2 million, in illegal profit for the chairman's four children. Lee's son, Lee Jae Yong, is an executive at Samsung Electronics.

Hur and Park "helped Lee Jae Yong and his sisters make profits, thus incurring losses for the company," Judge Lee Hye Kwang said in a ruling.

Hur was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, while Park was given a prison term of two years, suspended for three years. The suspended sentences mean that Hur and Park will not serve time in prison unless they commit a crime during the suspension period.

The two men were both on the board that approved the convertible bonds, which enabled Lee Kun Hee's children to acquire shares in Samsung Everland, the unlisted theme park operator, at a low price and paying little in taxes, the official verdict stated.

The theme park company is at the heart of a web-like chain of cross-shareholdings among affiliates of the country's largest business group, which includes the largest memory chip maker in the world, Samsung Electronics.

Samsung Group has 61 affiliates with combined sales amounting to 135.5 trillion won in 2004, equivalent to more than one-sixth of the South Korean annual gross domestic product. According to data from the country's antitrust agency, Samsung Everland owns a stake in Samsung Electronics through affiliates.

South Korean conglomerates have been accused for decades of dubious dealings to help controlling families evade taxes and transfer wealth to heirs.

Although Samsung is the most profitable South Korean conglomerate, it has been plagued by allegations of questionable accounting and business practices among its subsidiaries. The court in its official verdict also said that the two executives had been responsible for an unspecified amount of damages inflicted on Samsung Everland.


Corruption inquiry hits Beijing Media
Shares of Beijing Media, which sells advertising space in a Communist Party-controlled newspaper, slumped Tuesday after the company said six employees, including senior executives, were taken into custody in a corruption investigation.

The company "has suspended the duties of the six employees until further notice" and plans an internal investigation, Beijing Media said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange. The stock was suspended Monday for one day after the business magazine Caijing, based in Beijing, reported the investigation.

Beijing Media, which raised $116 million in a December share sale arranged by HSBC Holdings, is the latest in a series of Chinese listed companies to be embroiled in corruption allegations. The company, which sells advertising in the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper, last month reported a 99.7 percent slump in first-half profit. Government of Singapore Investment Corp. holds an 8 percent stake in the company.

The incident "reflects poor company management," said Selina Sia, a Hong Kong-based analyst with UBS, who has a "reduce" recommendation on Beijing Media's shares. "The company didn't say anything until newspapers reported it. I think it's quite irresponsible."

Beijing Media shares had their biggest one-day fall, closing 19 percent down at 10.50 Hong Kong dollars, or $1.35, after earlier losing as much as 27 percent. The stock has dropped 53 percent this year.

Those taken into custody included two vice presidents and the head and deputy head of the advertising department, Beijing Media said. It said its president, Sun Wei, had taken on management of the advertising business and that it would hire independent advisers to conduct an internal investigation and assess the financial impact.

"With the implementation of the above measures, the board does not anticipate any significant disruption will be caused" to daily operations, it said.

In August, Beijing Media said falling advertising revenue, rising inventory costs and increased bad-debt provisions caused a 99.7 percent slump in first-half profit to 170,000 yuan, or $21,000. It also said it had sold fewer advertisements to developers, its main source of revenue, after the government acted to cool the real estate market in cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

The company's interim report said revenue from Beijing Youth Daily, the main source of its advertising sales, slid 50.2 percent from a year earlier.

Tuesday's statement said Beijing prosecutors had detained two vice presidents, Zheng Yijun and Niu Ming, for questioning, together with Yu Dagong, the head of the advertising department, his deputy Zhu Weijing, and two advertising department officers, Duan Tao and Lu Jianning.

"The board understands that allegations of bribery have been made against" Yu, Zhu and Duan, it said. The company said it had not been informed of the allegations against the other three.
Source: Bloomberg, Hong Kong


Eyewear firm in 290m yuan acquisition
Luxottica, the world's largest maker of eyeglasses, based in Italy, will buy optical retailer Ming Long Optical for 290 million yuan (HK$278.11 million) as part of an expansion into the 16 billion yuan China eyewear industry.

Ming Long Optical, the biggest eyewear chain in Guangdong with 133 stores, will have forecast sales of 115 million yuan this year, according to Luxottica, whose products sell under luxury brands such as Vogue and Chanel. Its second mainland foray brings Milan-based Luxottica's China portfolio to 278 outlets, including 68 in Hong Kong.
In July, the company said it will buy Beijing-based Xueliang Optical for 169 million yuan, according to local reports.

For Italian Luxotica China is the next big market for fashion and premium eyewear, hence is desire to quickly build critical mass to be the leaders on market.

Luxottica, which earned 287 million euros (HK$2.66 billion) last year on sales of 3.2 billion euros, also owns a frame-producing factory in Dongguan, in addition to six plants in Italy. Eyewear firms such as France's Essilor International and Japan's Nojiri Optical have set up factories in China, taking advantage of the country's comparatively cheap labor.

Mainland eyewear production rose 10 percent last year to 16 billion yuan, - with half for export, mainly to the United States, Hong Kong, Japan and Italy. China's large and increasingly well- off population is attracting investors to the domestic market. The investment arm of Netherlands-based HAL Holding in June bought 70 percent of Shanghai RedStar Optical. Eyewear imports to China increased 35 percent to US$1.1 billion (HK$8.58 billion) last year, with Japan, Italy and Hong Kong being the top exporters.


International photo contest opens in Vietnam
As many as 7,228 photos of 1,416 photographers from 45 countries and territories are being displayed at the third international photo exhibition and contest which is jointly held by the Vietnam Association of Photographic Artists (VAPA) and the International Federation of Photographic Artist (FIAP).

This year, VAP stipulated a new rule for photo rating, including two rounds: preliminary and final rounds. As assessed by the organising board, the quality of photos taken by Vietnamese photographic artists is not much different with those of world’s photographers in term of techniques. The content of photos of Vietnamese photographers also showed their progress in skills. However, photographers from other countries seem to carefully reflect their ideas and are well prepared for this contest. The topics seem to be repeated at this contest; meanwhile there are not many typical and impressive photos.

The good point of Vietnamese photographers is their respect for the reality and the typical features of their photos. However, there is a shortage of romance in Vietnamese photos. Technically accomplished photos catch the eyes of audiences. Poorly created photos are easy to spot compared to previous contests.

The selected photos partly show the real situation of Vietnam’s contemporary photographic art and ranks Vietnam’s photographic art as a contributor to the world’s photographic art. The special award, VAPA-NIKON cup, was given to the art work ‘Warm Stove’ (Bep Nong) of Huynh Minh Tri from Ho Chi Minh City. Two FIAP gold medals were presented to artwork ‘Worry’ (colour photo) of Hoang Trung Thuy and artwork ‘Breakfast’ (black and white) of Huynh Van Danh.

The success of the contest and exhibition is not only shown through awards and organisation. 227 selected photos for the exhibition are really works with high artistic and creative value. The success of the contest also marks a promising time of activities for the newly elect VAPA.

Friday, February 25, 2005


Nation-wide core inflation fell to 0.3% y/y in January, but deflationary pressures are slowly receding

In January, the core consumer price index (nation-wide), excluding perishables, was down by 0.2%, and fell by 0.3% on a yearly basis, after –0.2% in December. Overall prices declined by 0.4% over the month, down 0.1% on a yearly basis, the fastest pace of decrease since May 2004. The period of deflation is now lasting for almost seven years.

As usual, “special factors” explain price developments in January. The core CPI was depressed by falling prices for phone, electricity and rice. The impact of phone and electricity rate cuts will depress core inflation throughout 2005. Since October 2004, the positive base effect due to soaring rice prices between October 2003 and September 2004 has disappeared and rice prices lowered nation-wide core CPI by more than 0.20 pp. All in all, core inflation is expected to remain below zero in Q1 2005.

In Tokyo, overall prices were steady in February, falling by 0.5% over the year, after –0.2% in January, and core CPI fell 0.5% y/y, with rice prices contributing 0.25 pp to the decline.

However, deflationary pressures are receding very slowly in all sectors except those where deregulation led to intense price competition. In particular, employee’s income growth turned positive in Q4 2004, for the first time since Q2 2003, recording a 0.4% rise. This trend is likely to continue, since the demand for labour is gradually picking up. Finally, due to bottlenecks in some sectors of the economy, higher costs will be progressively passed onto final prices.
Written: by LuisB

Thursday, February 24, 2005


It's Chinese New Year. Will workers get paid?
As travel season begins, the payment of back wages is an economic bellwether.
China is a country on the move - this month especially.
The nation's trains, highways, and airplanes will handle an estimated 1.8 billion passenger trips over the next month as part of Spring Festival, a holiday of homecoming tied to the Chinese New Year.

For hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrant workers - the cogs of what has been dubbed "the world's factory" - Spring Festival is not just a rare opportunity for R&R, but a make-or-break payday. Employers often promise to pay by this holiday the back wages owed from months of toil so that workers can return to their families with the fruits of their labor from the year.

But this Spring Festival, payday probably won't come for many of these expectant workers, say labor-rights activists. And some of those who do get their money may take it to purchase a one-way ticket home, adding to a labor shortage fueled partly by poor working conditions. All this makes the Spring Festival a bellwether for those watching China's economy.

The withholding of back pay - which is illegal - has become common practice in China, where an estimated 100 million migrants from rural interior provinces flood the wealthier south and east coasts, filling the factories and construction sites with cheap labor. The Chinese government last year estimated that workers were owed around $12 billion in unpaid wages. Employers withhold pay as a means of keeping laborers in a job.

The Spring Festival travel season began last week, and the official days off this year run from Feb. 7 to 11. Already, the Chinese media is rife with accounts of workers unable to return to their families because their bosses have not and will not pay them. Other reports show the situation is improving, with more workers collecting the pay owed them so they can return home.

Stephen Frost, a researcher at the City University of Hong Kong who studies Asian labor issues, pointed as one example to publicly staged suicide threats by unpaid workers in southern China.

"That's the kind of desperation people are in," says Mr. Frost, who noted workers in the construction sector often are particularly hard-hit on back wages. "The work is tough and if you don't get your money, it's terrible."

In Shenzhen, Liu Kaiming runs a non-governmental organization called the Institute of Contemporary Observation dedicated to helping migrant workers.

"Many people cannot get their salaries," he says. "I cannot say if this year is better or worse, but the working conditions are getting better."

With the increasing profile of labor unions and strikes in China, along with government pressure to stop illegal wage withholding, the situation is likely to improve, says Liu. Many factories in southern China are also short on labor, creating pressure to improve work conditions and pay.

A report from the Chinese Ministry of Labor and Social Security last fall found that millions of migrant workers chose to stay home and subsist on little money, rather than meander through the uncertainty of pay and poor conditions at factories. The shift created what the government said was a shortage of more than 1 million workers in the Pearl River Delta.

Frost says the end of Spring Festival this year could show whether the labor shortage was an anomaly. Manufacturers and others who depend on migrant workers should know at the end of the holiday whether their work force is returning.

The country's two other major worker holidays are the "Golden Weeks" that fall May 1 and Oct. 1. Late in 2004, the central government proposed eliminating the weeks and replacing them with flexible, paid holidays. The move fell through without explanation, however, and Golden Weeks were scheduled for 2005.
Lately, however, most companies and government agencies require working weekends at both ends of each week, leaving the net sum of an extra day off.
Source: The Christian Science Monitor. February 2005
Written: by Kathleen E. McLaughlin

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Japan hit by human variant of mad cow
Japan on Friday confirmed its first case of the human variant of mad cow disease, a fatal brain disease thought to be contracted by eating infected beef.
The Health Ministry said that a man had died last December after contracting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

A Health Ministry spokesman, Yuki Ueda, said ministry experts were holding an emergency meeting to attempt to determine whether the case had been caused by eating beef infected with the prions that are thought to cause the disease. He did not elaborate.
Kyodo News reported that the victim was a man who in 1990 lived for several months in Britain, where mad cow first surfaced in 1986. Scientists estimate the time between exposure and the development of symptoms to be 10 to 20 years.
The human variant of the disease has been confirmed or deemed probable in 167 people worldwide, most of them in Britain but also in France, the United States, Ireland, Italy and Canada - though hundreds of thousands of people have likely eaten contaminated beef products.
More than 140 people have died worldwide from definitive or probable variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after eating meat from animals with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as mad cow disease is formally known. The disease is thought to be transmitted among animals via feed containing brain or other nerve tissue.

About seven million animals had been slaughtered in Britain by the end of June 2004 under a plan aimed at preventing the spread of the disease.
Since it was first discovered in Japan in 2001, 15 animals have been found with the disease, but there have been no human cases.
Tokyo has checked every slaughtered cow before it entered the food supply since finding the first infected animal.
The latest suspected case was found in October.
Confirmation of the case could hinder efforts by the United States to persuade Japan to ease its ongoing ban on U.S. beef imports.
Japan banned American beef imports in December 2003 after the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in Washington State.
At the time, Japan was the most lucrative overseas market for American beef, importing $1.7 billion worth in 2003.
Tokyo and Washington tentatively agreed late last year to a resumption of Japanese imports of American beef products from cows younger than 21 months, but the accord was stalled by differences over how to authenticate the age of cattle.
Source: The Associated Press, Reuters. February 2005

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Beijing steps up fight to ease rural poverty
China is promising farmers lower taxes and higher subsidies in its latest effort to raise rural incomes and ease burdens that have sparked violent protests.
The new policy, announced this week by state media, aims to help spread prosperity to China's countryside, most of whose 800 million people have been left behind by a boom that has turned eastern cities into economic powerhouses.
The government of President Hu Jintao, who took office in 2003, has made improving the lives of the rural poor a priority after two decades in which Beijing focused on building up export industries.
Rising tax burdens have led to violent clashes between farmers and local authorities, causing both alarm at social unrest and embarrassment for leaders of a Communist Party founded on improving the lot of mainland peasants.

The new policy, titled ``No 1 Document of 2005,'' does not give financial details but promises new spending on rural education and health programs and on irrigation and other infrastructure.

``Only by doing this can we support more population with less land, meet the growing consumption demand, open more space for agricultural adjustment of structure and boost farmers income,'' the People's Daily said Monday. ``The development of agriculture and rural villages will naturally be on a new stage if a big breakthrough is made in these areas.''
Financial details are likely to be announced by the finance minister when the national legislature holds its annual meeting next month.

While incomes in mainland cities have soared, those for farmers have risen slowly, if at all. China's annual income has passed US$1,000 (HK$7,800) per person, according to the government, but many rural families get by on a fraction of that.

The yawning gap between rural and urban incomes - and the growing social tensions that it has caused - are expected to be a key issue at the parliament session.
The policy promises higher crop subsidies and ``steadily increasing investment in agriculture'' this year, though it does not say how much or how it compares to previous government spending. It pledges to improve farmers' land-use rights - a critical issue at a time when China also faces growing rural anger at the seizure of farmland for real estate development.

Many farm families have no formal title to their land and receive little or no compensation when it is seized.
The policy promises to extend a strategy announced last year of eliminating many basic taxes. But it avoids what experts say are two key issues for raising farm incomes - the rights of rural families to own land and to move in search of work.

Farm families are not allowed to own land, controlling it instead through long-term leases that prevent them from using it as collateral for bank loans.
Rural and urban residents also are classified separately by the government. Millions of people move to cities every year looking for work, but many areas periodically detain and send home those who lack residency papers.

A 2003 World Bank report said the single most effective step the mainland could take to raise farm incomes would be to let farmers move to cities in search of better-paid work.
Allowing such migration would raise rural incomes by as much as 16percent by letting the farmers who remain behind acquire more farmland and compete more efficiently, the report said.
Source: AP. February 2005
Written: by Joe McDonald

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Crisis in Nepal
If electoral democracy was suspended in Nepal in 2002, the sacking of Prime Minister Deuba and the assumption of total autocratic powers by the King now have totally buried any semblance of constitutional governance in Nepal.

Constitutional governance takes years to build but may collapse in a day. Following the end of the rule of the Ranas in 1951, governance in Nepal was conducted through a number of interim advisory governments. No sooner was the multi-party Constitution adopted in 1959, it failed. B.P. Koirala led the Nepali Congress Party to an electoral victory. But by 1960, King Mahendra suspended Parliament and took control. On the basis that Nepal was not quite ready for a parliamentary democracy in which political parties competed for power; a new panchayat-based Constitution was created in 1962. Amid years of indifferent governance, political agitation led to a constitutional referendum in 1980. As a result, the King agreed to direct elections but without political parties.

Increasing discontent led to Nepal's new Constitution of 1990, which created a parliamentary democracy with a Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary. In 1991, G.P. Koirala led the Nepali Congress Party to victory and became Prime Minister. But in 1994, he was defeated in a no-confidence motion. He lost the elections and a communist Government was ushered in. It also fell soon. The period 1997-2001 saw many governments - the result of party splits and infirm coalitions. Over the 1990s, the Maoist rebellion intensified. Talks for a truce failed in 2001 when a state of Emergency was declared, which is remembered for its flourishes of state lawlessness.

Amidst all this confusion, on June 1, 2001, King Birendra and his family were killed by Crown Prince Dipendra, who also died after inflicting gun shot wounds on himself. King Gyanendra ascended the throne. As violence increased, Prime Minister G.P. Koirala resigned. Even though the Assembly was dissolved in 2002, no elections were called. Veritable musical chairs followed of successive Prime Ministers with Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was Prime Minister between 2002 and 2003, being reappointed in June 2004. Meanwhile, the rebels blockaded Kathmandu. Finally, on February 1, 2005, King Gyanendra sacked Prime Minister Deuba and declared an Emergency to assume all powers of governance for three years.

From 1951, Nepal's experiments with constitutional democracy have been disfavoured by history. The present crisis is riddled with a constitutional impasse. Normally, a Prime Minister who is willing to act as one cannot be dismissed unless he has lost his majority. The question of Prime Minister Deuba losing his majority did not arise as there have been no elections since 2002. King Gyanendra has relentlessly sacked Prime Ministers since he was enthroned in 2001 - trying his hand with various alternatives including royalist supporters. If the sacking of Mr. Deuba was unconstitutional, the legality of the King's assumption of Emergency powers is even more doubtful. Under Nepal's Constitution, an Emergency can be imposed if a "grave crisis" such as war, external aggression, armed rebellion or extreme economic disarray threatens the sovereignty and integrity of the country. Nepal is in a state of crisis. In the absence of elections, there being no Parliament, the question of the House of Representatives approving of the Emergency by a two-thirds vote does not arise. Constitutionally, an Emergency beyond a period of one year is not envisaged. An arbitrary declaration of Emergency for three years goes beyond the pale of constitutional governance. If electoral democracy was suspended in Nepal in 2002 (from when elections have not been held), the sacking of Prime Minister Deuba and the assumption of total autocratic powers by the King in 2005 have totally buried any semblance of constitutional governance in Nepal for a long time to come.

Constitutional lawyers have problems dealing with situations of this nature. The sacking of Prime Ministers is not unknown even under constitutional governance. In 1963, the Privy Council in appeal found the sacking of the Nigerian Prime Minister invalid. But Malaysian courts found the removal of a provincial Premier in 1966 valid. In India, Governor Dharam Vira's dismissal of Chief Minister Ajoy Mukherjee in West Bengal in 1967 was not interfered with by courts. Mulayam Singh's complaint that Governor Motilal Vohra had sacked him unfairly in June 1995 was sent to a Supreme Court constitution bench where the issue died an obsolescent death. But in all these cases, a justification for the dismissal was a refusal to test that government's majority.

But ingenuity has never failed lawyers and judges in such situations. In a sense, a new justificatory trend emerged in Pakistan in 1958 when President Ayub Khan scrapped the Constitution of 1956 to assume total powers. In Dosso's case (1958), the Pakistan Supreme Court used jurist Hans Kelsen's theory that a revolution can be justified when the basic norm underlying a Constitution disappears and a new system is put in its place. Dosso's case became the new basis for a new jurisprudence for usurpers. As a result, every usurper or dictator who destroyed an old Constitution could claim the right of constitutional governance under a new basic norm of his own creation. But in such situations what was the new basic norm? In Asma Jilani's case (1969), Pakistan courts took the view that the doctrine of necessity could be the constitutional basis for a new usurper regime. As Pakistan went through usurper after usurper, this usurper jurisprudence was consolidated — no less in Begum Bhutto's case in 1977. This consolidation became even more startling when President Pervez Musharraf assumed power in 1999 and administered a new oath to his judges preventing them from challenging his usurpation.

Pakistan's `usurper jurisprudence' was not alone in pursuing this kind of constitutional subversion. Judges from Ghana followed this approach in Sallah's case in 1966 and those from Nigeria in Laknami's case in 1969. Such an issue reached English courts in the aftermath of Ian Smith declaring independence in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). But in Madzimbamuto's case (1969), British judges refused to follow the change-in-basic-norm theory and declared Mr. Smith's regime unconstitutional — although one dissenting judge seemed to give some legal basis to the Smith regime under the doctrine of necessity. But while it was possible for British judges in Britain to take this stance from far away London, it requires courage for local judges located in the crisis country to challenge this kind of unconstitutionality in the face of a military or dictatorial takeover.

As far as Nepal is concerned, it remains to be seen what Nepalese courts will do if asked to deliberate on the actions of King Gyanendra. In the past, the lawyers of Nepal have been courageous in taking constitutional issues to court. Nepal's judges could declare King Gyanendra's takeover unconstitutional. This would mean restoring Prime Ministership to Mr. Deuba who will in any case not be responsible to any Parliament. It would, of course, be easier for them to invoke Kelsen's theory of a change in the basic norm to legitimise King Gyanendra's usurpation of dictatorial power. In this, it would find support from the doctrine of necessity invoked by Pakistan's courts to justify virtually all or any kind of unconstitutional violation. A doctrine to justify revolution has been trivialised to help dictators. The rule of law is ill-served by such constitutional acrobatics.

But where does Nepal go from here? The actual situation in Nepal is serious and drifting out of control. When King Gyanendra used the Emergency powers in November 2001, the situation worsened in ways that forfeited the confidence of the people. Quite apart from the constitutional violations, the present situation was hardly the time to compound a military crisis into a constitutional disaster. It is in the overall interests of Nepal that the King recalls his orders sacking Mr. Deuba. Declaring a three-year Emergency is neither necessary nor prudent. On February 2, 2005, he swore in a Cabinet of loyalists. What is needed is to create consensus national governance, which will take Nepal into a democratic framework. When Mr. Deuba asked President George W. Bush for support to fight the Maoist rebels in 2002, America pledged $20 million to this cause. It remains a moot question as to what the Government of Nepal expects from America now — and, even more so, what America led by President Bush will threaten to do. This is the time for the King of Nepal to return to first principles of democratic governance and not invite further chaos in an already troubled nation. Constitutions require an inner morality to make them function.
Written: by LuisB. February 2005

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Attacking Iran 'not on US agenda'
Condoleezza Rice has insisted that attacking Iran is not on the US agenda "at this point in time".
She was speaking in London following meetings with Tony Blair and Jack Straw, on her first overseas trip as US secretary of state.
She said the US would use diplomacy to deal with Iran's nuclear programme.
But she attacked its human rights record and claimed it was harming prospects for peace in the Middle East by supporting terrorism.

Diplomatic tools
Ms Rice described the half hour meeting with Mr Straw and Mr Blair as "productive" and hailed the strength of the US/UK friendship, saying America had "no better friend and no better ally".
Asked if she envisaged circumstances in which the US would attack Iran, she said: "The question is simply not on the agenda at this point in time."
She added: "We have many diplomatic tools still at our disposal and we intend to pursue them fully."
But she said the Iranian people "deserved better", and condemned the regime's "abysmal human rights record".

'Supporter' of terrorism
She told BBC's Breakfast with Frost that America's primary goal is "to deal with Iran's destabilising influence" on the international scene which is "one of the most important barriers" to the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
Iran is "the key supporter" of rejectionist groups like Hezbollah, she said.
"We need unity of purpose, and unity of message to Iran to stop those activities."
Attention has been focused on Iran's civilian nuclear programme amid fears that the Tehran regime is trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Mr Straw hailed efforts by the UK, Germany and France to secure a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, insisting that Washington had been "very supportive of the process".

Healing divisions
He later told BBC's the World At One: "As Condoleezza Rice and indeed President Bush have said, they are backing the diplomacy which is being led by France, Germany and the UK."
As a result of agreements reached, all of Iran's uranium enrichment and related activities, apart from some "very limited compliance", have been suspended, he said.

On Iraq, Mr Straw highlighted the success of the country's recent elections as helping heal world divisions over the war.

Ms Rice's week-long tour of Europe and the Middle East includes talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

She also confirmed her attendance at a Palestinian conference in London next month.

During the rest of the trip, Ms Rice is expected to give a staunch defence of President George Bush's stated aim of spreading freedom and democracy around the world in what is seen as a bid to mend relations with nationals opposed to the Iraq war.
After leaving London, she flew to Germany for talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Her whistle-stop tour is also scheduled to include stops in Belgium, Luxembourg, Turkey, Italy and Poland.
Ms Rice will round off the trip by making a major speech on US-EU relations in Paris.
Source: BBC News. February 2005

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Profits stall at China's Lenovo
Profits at Chinese computer firm Lenovo have stood still amid slowing demand at home and stiffening competition.
The firm is in the international spotlight after last year signing a deal to buy the PC division of personal computer pioneer IBM.
Lenovo's profit for the three months to December was HK$327m (US$42m; £22m), less than 1% up on the year before.
Chinese PC sales have risen by a fifth in each of the past two years, but are now growing more slowly.
The company is still by far the biggest player in China, with more than a quarter of the market.
But Western firms such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard are also mounting a more solid fight for market share in China, and Lenovo's sales were down 3.7% by revenue to HK$6.31bn.

End of an era?
If the $1.75bn agreement Lenovo signed with IBM on 8 December goes through, it will mark the end of an era. IBM pioneered the desktop PC market in the early 1980s, although strategic mis-steps helped lose it its early dominance. In any case, margins in PC market are now wafer thin, and profits have been hard to come by for most vendors except direct-sales giant Dell.
But investors have been less than impressed with Lenovo's move, designed to take it out of China and further onto the world stage.
Its shares are down 20% since the announcement two months ago, largely because of the unprofitability of the unit it is buying.
There have been rumours that the deal could be in trouble because US government agencies fear it could offer China opportunities for industrial espionage.
The reports of the possibility of an investigation into the risk sent Lenovo's shares up 6% in late January.
Source: BBC News. February 2005

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Toyota sees 1 trillion yen year as profit rises 3.5%
Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday its group net profit in the October-December period rose 3.5 percent from a year earlier to 296.5 billion yen, clearing the way for its profit for the year to March to exceed 1 trillion yen for a second consecutive year.
The nation's largest automaker's brisk performance was backed by lower costs and higher global sales.
Toyota raised its global sales projection for fiscal 2004 to 7.29 million, up 70,000 units from November, mainly due to higher success in North America and Japan. But the automaker is doing well everywhere.
"The number of vehicles we sold increased in every region" from a year earlier, Senior Managing Director Takeshi Suzuki told reporters in Tokyo.
Sales in the quarter rose 5.9 percent to 4.64 trillion yen, and operating profit climbed 5.3 percent to 422.9 billion yen.
Toyota cut costs by 40 billion yen, mainly from parts procurement, which more than offset the negative impact of the yen's appreciation against the dollar, which pushed down operating profit by 10 billion yen.
The positive factors also absorbed a 39 billion yen increase in expenses for research and development and expanded overseas production bases.
For the full year, the company expects to cut only 170 billion yen in costs, compared with the 200 billion yen it initially projected. Suzuki blamed the shortfall on rising materials costs, including steel, but said the impact fell within range of the company's expectations.
In terms of volume, Toyota's global sales in the quarter, including sales by mini vehicle subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Co. and truck maker Hino Motors Ltd., totalled 1.84 million vehicles, up 8.2 percent from the previous year.
Domestic sales grew 3.5 percent to 573,000 vehicles, led by the success of the new models, including the Isis minivan and the Mark X luxury sedan.
In North America, the automaker sold 576,000 cars, up 2.6 percent, thanks to the high popularity of the Sion series with younger drivers and Lexus luxury cars.
In calendar 2004, Toyota sold 2.06 million cars in the United States alone, achieving its target of 2 million.
In Europe, the automaker sold 249,000 cars in the quarter, up 14.3 percent, on strong demand for the Corolla compact series. European sales in 2004 came to 916,000 units, marking eight consecutive years of gains.
In fiscal 2003, Toyota posted a net profit of 1.16 trillion yen, becoming the first Japanese firm to top the 1 trillion yen mark.
Source: Daily Shinbum
Written: by LuisB. February 2005

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


How can Taiwanese trust Beijing?
Recent events indicate how much the people of Taiwan long for an improved cross-strait relationship against a backdrop of prolonged military threats from China and international isolation. The slightest gesture of warmth or lessening of hostility on the part of Beijing is enough to incite wishful thinking among some people in Taiwan, which makes these people highly susceptible to Chinese unification propaganda.

The first recent event that gave false hope to people in Taiwan is the fact that the governments on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have finally reached an agreement to make possible non-stop charter flights for the Lunar New Year holiday period. Although Beijing has repeatedly made it clear that this year's charter flights are an isolated incident, many still wholeheartedly believe that it was the beginning of a new-found friendship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. They turned a blind eye to the fact that Taiwan had actually taken grave national security risks to make the flights possible. It is truly worrisome that some groups within Taiwan will use this as a stepping stone to push for permanent cross-strait links, without thinking twice about what kind of price the people of Taiwan would have to pay.

The second event that brought hope to the naive is the arrival on Tuesday of a delegation from China to pay their respects to the late top negotiator Koo Chen-fu, former chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation. Sun Yafu, vice chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and director of its Taiwan Affairs Office, and Li Yafei, secretary-general of ARATS, came in their unofficial capacities as personal envoys of Koo's Chinese counterpart, ARATS chairman Wang Daohan.

During their brief stay, they refrained from making any official statements on the future of cross-strait relations and avoided meeting government officials, except for a brief meeting and handshake with SEF Chairman and Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Vice Chairman Johnnason Liu and SEF Secretary-General Jan Jyh-horng around the end of the memorial service on Wednesday. In fact, they deliberately arrived close to the end of the service to avoid meeting President Chen Shui-bian, who attended earlier.

Despite this window-dressing gesture of good will, Beijing has not slowed its pace even slightly in getting its anti-secession law enacted. In fact, the Chinese National People's Congress will finish enactment of this law by the end of March. The intended target of the law is obviously none other than Taiwan. Few can overlook the fact that the anti-secession law will give Beijing a legal basis to move against Taiwan in the event of any action Beijing interprets as an act of "Taiwan independence." The hostility and implications of the anti-secession law is so strong and unsettling that the US has openly voiced concerns on more than one occasion.

This could explain why Beijing agreed to the Lunar New Year charter flights and dispatched Sun and Li to Taiwan. However, the tokenism of these two small gestures amounts to virtually nothing in the face of the enormous hostility behind the anti-secession law. This is not to mention the fact that, throughout the process, Beijing did not forget to continue increasing the number of missiles targeting Taiwan. The president recently announced that the number of missiles had grown to 706. Under the circumstances, one cannot help but wonder how anyone in Taiwan can believe that Beijing is sincere about improving its relationship with Taiwan.
Source: The Taipei Times. February 2005

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -