Sunday, September 19, 2004


Envoys see N Korea mystery site
Foreign diplomats have visited a large construction site in North Korea which Pyongyang said was the cause of a mysterious cloud last week.
The diplomats were told a hydroelectric dam was being built and the cloud was due to explosions to clear the area.
But South Korea stoked confusion on Friday when it said the diplomats were taken to a place well to the east of the originally suspected location.
Seoul also said it now believed the cloud was not caused by an explosion.
Lee Bong-jo, South Korean Vice-Minister for Unification, said: "We believe that there was no explosion in the place where intelligence authorities had previously suspected that there were signs of an explosion.
"We believe that the explosion described by North Korea took place in Samsu County, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the originally suspected site, and has to do with a hydroelectric project," he said.
The South's National Intelligence Service said earlier this week that the unusually shaped cloud could have been a natural formation.
South Korean media first reported the cloud last weekend, prompting concern about an accident or possible nuclear test, although this has now been discounted.

- Mystery mounts
12 Sep: S Korea media reports 'mushroom-shaped' cloud over Kimhyungjik county, N Korea
13 Sep: N Korea says dam-clearing blast caused cloud
15 Sep: S Korean spy agency says cloud may have been natural
16 Sep: Foreign diplomats taken to dam near Samsu
17 Sep: S Korea says no evidence of explosion at Kimhyungjik

The diplomats from Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Mongolia, Poland, Russia and Sweden travelled to the north of the country on Thursday.
The group, which included British Ambassador to North Korea, David Slinn, were allowed to stay for 90 minutes and take photographs.
They were told that North Korea had carried out two large explosions, on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said the information gathered now needed to be assessed by technical experts.
But hopes that the visit would clear up the confusion were dashed when South Korea said the site the diplomats were taken to was some distance from the site of the mysterious cloud.

The diplomats were taken to a location near Samsu, east of Yongjo-ri in Kimhyungjik county, which South Korea originally reported as being the location of the cloud.
North Korea has accused South Korea of using the issue to distract attention from its own difficulties regarding unauthorised nuclear research.
Seoul was forced to admit earlier this month that its scientists had experimented with small quantities of enriched uranium and plutonium.
The admission has added further problems to international efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Source; BBC News. September 2004
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China's defence spending worries Japan
But Foreign Minister Kawaguchi says both countries are keen on closer cooperation and steers clear of calling Beijing a security threat Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi yesterday expressed concern over China's burgeoning military expenditure, but stopped short of describing China as a security threat to her nation.

She glossed over a question by reporters as to whether she agreed with a report earlier this week, that said that a private panel of advisers to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had identified China as a military threat to Japan.
Instead, she said that in her latest talks in Beijing with Chinese leaders, both sides stressed the need for closer cooperation.

'If we work together, there is so much we can accomplish for peace and stability,' she said.

'As China is our next-door neighbour, we look at its military budget very closely. We have been telling China to be more transparent about its military budget because it is important to the peace and stability in this region.'
Diplomatic ties between Japan and China have cooled in the past few years, with the Chinese blaming Mr Koizumi's annual trips to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for the impasse.

The result is that there have been no exchanges of visits between both countries at the highest level since Mr Koizumi became Premier in April 2001.
But Ms Kawaguchi said the perception that he had no contact with Chinese leaders was not true.

'There are many international meetings at which he has had bilateral meetings with top Chinese leaders and I am certain he will continue to do so,' she said.
She also revealed that a bilateral eminent persons group would be meeting soon to discuss ways of enhancing people-to-people ties.

Such discussions have become more urgent following the overt and widespread display of anti-Japanese sentiments by Chinese soccer fans during recent Asian Cup matches held in China.

Asked about Japan's position on rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait, Ms Kawaguchi said her government has urged both sides to resume their talks and to refrain from 'raising their voices'.

'Any conflict over the strait is harmful to peace and stability in this region and we would like that not to happen,' she said.

Turning to Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, she underlined the need for her government to move now. 'With the UN carrying out reforms, it is a good chance for Japan to become a permanent member. If we do not make full use of this opportunity, we will not have another one for a long time.'
Prime Minister Koizumi is due to address the UN General Assembly in New York early next week to declare his country's desire to secure a permanent council seat.

Japan's claim is based on its financial contribution to the UN - amounting to one-fifth of the world body's budget, and the size of its economy, which is second in the world.

But while the United States has indicated that it will support Japan's bid, there are concerns that Beijing may withhold its endorsement, especially given the frigid state of its political ties with Tokyo.
Write; by Kwan Weng Kin
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High-tech companies start to feel impact of China
China`s surging economy has starting ringing alarm bells here.
The growth of the market in China, Korea`s largest trade partner, has provided tremendous opportunities for Korean companies, but with China`s economic development also has come a huge bundle of risks.

As China has become an ever-more-capable manufacturer, it has also become a big competitor, leading to worries that Korea is fast losing its international competitiveness. This is especially true in one of Korea`s key industries - high-tech products - where China is making deep inroads.

High-tech electronic parts, semiconductors and wireless communication equipment comprise nearly 40 percent of Korea`s export basket, and an international Chinese onslaught in those fields could leave Korean companies battered, economists say.
The fears have only gotten worse with the latest projections by influential private think tank Samsung Economic Research Institute, which has forecast that although overall exports this year will gain 30 percent from the level of 2003, there will be a slowdown in growth for exports of high-tech products - because of a low-price offensive by China.

For the moment the surging Chinese economy is fueling steady demand for parts, components and intermediate goods from Korea. Also, investment by Korean companies in China has the effect of increasing trade. But in the medium term, a strain on Korea could become very visible, economists warn.
A Chinese push to make the parts and components for its export goods at home has the potential to shut out components exported from Korea, says Park Bun Soon, a research fellow at the Samsung research institute.
And as more and more multinational companies increase investments in China, that also will inevitably hurt Korea`s exports, as well as sales by Korean plants in China, he says.

Those developments "will provoke fiercer competition against Korea`s core products such as automobiles, electronics and semiconductors. Not only could Korea`s exports to China be curtailed, but even exports to third countries will be squeezed by severe price competition," Park says.
As China`s assembly lines expand, its export product lines will probably start to look more and more like Korea`s: cars, computers, mobile phones and semiconductor chips.

"China is rapidly building its own steel, shipbuilding, electronics and semiconductor industries that happen to be Korea`s major export items. This will have a major impact on the future of the economy, as China`s market today represents a big export destination," said Park.

John Weiss, director of research at the Asian Development Bank Institute, concurs. In the institute`s latest discussion paper, he analyzes the impact of China on its neighbors and finds that trade-orientated Korea, with a high volume of high-tech exports, will be at risk in the medium to long term.

"The countries with the more sophisticated trade structures, with a high share of high-technology exports, are those where the direct threat is greatest, where they will lose market share while China gains," he says.

China`s high-tech exports this year are on pace to surpass last year`s shipments, valued at $110.3 billion, which comprised one-fourth of total overseas sales. High-tech exports from January to July totaled $83.8 billion, a gain of 58 percent from the same period of 2003. During the 2004 period, high-tech shipments accounted for 38 percent of total exports, according to China`s Ministry of Commerce.

The Chinese Government is focused on developing this sector and is doing all it can to enhance the business climate, Jiang Yaoping, the country`s vice minister for information industry, said at the ITU Telecom Asia 2004 fair held in Busan earlier this month.

He stressed that China has realized the importance of the high-tech industry and is pushing ahead with its development. At present, together with the Beijing New Technology Experimental Zone, there are 53 new state-level high-tech zones in the country which seek to encourage companies in the sector.

"China is promoting the sector right across the country, and domestic players will be seen as serious international players," he said.

Chinese companies participating in the event showed the same confidence, asserting that they are ready to take on the world.

Ding Ming Feng, vice president of prominent telecom equipment provider ZTE Corp., said Chinese companies have already started making their presence felt abroad.
"We have emerged to compete against some of the world`s leading manufacturers in the high-tech sector," he said, noting that ZTE beat international competitors to be selected by Greece to supply broadband Internet access systems during this year`s Olympic Games.

Another Chinese company muscling its way into world markets is Huawei Technologies Ltd., China`s largest telecom vendor. Huawei officials participating at Busan said its international sales are projected to jump to $2 billion this year from $1.05 billion in 2003. The company had already reached $1.1 billion at the end of July, surpassing the full-year 2003 level.

Overseas sales are the strongest growth segment for the company, which had overall revenue of $3.83 billion in 2003 and is aiming at $5 billion this year.
Nonetheless, while China may soon be a tough competitor, Lee Chang-kyu, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, says that, "at least for now, any threat is far outweighed by the opportunity created by the booming Chinese economy."

In order for Korean companies to survive, however, they will have to keep advancing the level of their manufacturing to goods with higher added value and use cutting-edge technologies," Lee said.

Sino-Korean bilateral trade was valued at $43.9 billion for the first eight months of 2004, ahead of Korea`s trade with the United States, which stood at $40.2 billion, and Japan, at $ 38.3 billion. Korean exports to China totaled $28 billion during the eight-month period, comprising 19 percent of all Korean exports. Korean exports to the United States and Japan totaled $ 24 billion and $12.4 billion, respectively.

From January through July, Korean investment in China totaled $4.12 billion, according to Chinese government data, exceeding the $3.45 billion in investment from Japan. Last year, Korean companies signed deals in China at a rate of 12 a day. Some 22,000 Korean companies now have investments in China, which employ about one million Chinese workers, says the Korea International Trade Association.
Semiconductors is one area where Korean companies are increasingly using China as a platform but with probable future consequences.

By 2010, analysts predict, China will be the world`s biggest semiconductor market. The country is already investing in full-scale production facilities, and Chinese wafer production is expected to expand from 4 percent of the global share in 2003 to 9 percent by 2007, hitting Korean exporters hard.
Korean companies have also been doing semiconductor work in China, but have confined their operations mostly to back-end processing such as assembly and tests.
Now, however, the companies are steadily moving their production to China as well, to gain a foothold for penetrating the Chinese market and to capitalize on China`s cheap labor.

Shifting more production from Korea to China, however, has the potential to lead to what is called industrial "hollowness" in Korea, which would have a deep impact on export figures.
Write; by Rambabu Garikipati. September 2004
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Businesses reopen in Nepal as union removes ban
Around 60 companies in Nepal, including luxury hotels and the subsidiaries of multinational firms, have re-opened for business after a trade union linked to the country’s Maoist rebels withdrew its threats against them.

The pro-Maoist All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions called off its ban in return for the government agreeing on Friday to free two of its leaders and to make public the whereabouts of other missing union leaders by October 22.

In return, the companies, which the union had accused of unfair labour practices, have agreed to resolve all outstanding issues including the level of minimum wages through collective bargaining.
Twelve large companies, including Kathmandu’s Soaltee Crowne Plaza, the country’s oldest hotel, and Surya Nepal, a tobacco joint venture between India’s ITC and the UK’s BAT, had shut down in mid-August. Another four dozen companies had closed their doors a week ago.
“We are glad that people can finally get back to work, because the closure was uncalled for and wrong,” said Iswar Pokhrel, minister of industry, commerce and supplies. “We welcome the re-opening, and we will abide by our commitments.”

According to Rajendra Khetan, director of the Khetan Group, billions of rupees have already been lost and additional costs are likely, for servicing and restarting manufacturing equipment, tracking down raw materials in transit and reassuring customers.

“We don’t have a firm commitment that there won’t be another closure,” he said.

It took three human rights activists a month of exchanging notes on the telephone, via email and by fax to obtain written commitments from the union.

“They have assured us they won’t repeat a closure in the near future,” Malla K Sunder, one of three facilitators, told the Financial Times. “We hope there won’t be another closure if all sides abide by their commitments.”

There is, however, a second threat looming over the Nepali capital of Kathmandu. Last month, another Maoist group that had enforced a week-long blockade of the city in the middle of last month had said it was only postponing the siege until September 24.

“They could be preparing for a major attack, which they may need if only for psychological reasons before coming to negotiations,” said Sudheer Sharma, editor of the Nepal news magazine. “They might be waiting for a big one.”
Write; by Binod Bhattarai in Kathmandu. September 2004
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Maldives regrets EU block on aid
The authorities in the Maldives have expressed regret over a proposal by the European parliament to block an aid package worth $2m.
The European parliament says dissidents jailed in the Maldives should be released immediately.
It also called on the Maldivian government to end a state of emergency, and asked the EU to warn tourists about the islands' poor human rights record.
Almost 100 people were jailed when riots broke out there last month.
They were protesting at what they described as the dictatorial regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

- Maldives basics
1,200 islands in archipelago
Population is around 300,000
One-party rule since 1978
Low-lying islands vulnerable to rise in sea-levels

Denied access
The Maldivian government says it "remains wholly and totally committed to the process of democratic and constitutional reforms" and hopes to lift the state of emergency "in a matter of weeks".
"In the days and weeks to come, the Maldives government intends to continue dialogue with members of the European parliament in the hope of bringing about a better understanding and increased levels of dialogue," a statement released by the government said.
On Thursday the EU parliament passed a resolution calling on all 25-member states to "immediately cease all non-humanitarian aid... and to impose an immediate travel ban in order to prevent members of the [Maldivian] government and other officials... from entering the EU".
Last week, EU diplomats based in Colombo said they were denied access to dissidents while on a fact-finding mission to the capital, Male.
Source; BBN News. September 2004
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Sri Lanka talks still deadlocked
The latest attempt by Norway to kick start the stalled peace process in Sri Lanka has ended without any sign of progress.
Norwegian envoy, Erik Solheim, failed to make a breakthrough in meetings with the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.
Mr Solheim held separate discussions with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the leader of the rebels' political wing, SP Tamilselvan.
Direct talks between the two sides have been suspended since April last year.
A presidential spokesman said the government was unhappy at the Tamil Tigers' indecision over whether to resume peace talks.
For their part, the rebels said Mr Solheim had not brought any constructive message from the government.
The Tigers walked out of talks in April last year, saying the government had not honoured pledges.
Peace hopes diminished further this year following a rift in the rebel movement.
The main rebel faction blamed the government for supporting the breakaway group, led by Colonel Karuna, and using it to fight a covert war.
The Tigers began their armed campaign for a separate state in the north and east more than 20 years ago.
Source; BBC News. September 2004
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Jakarta court puts media freedom behind bars
A Jakarta court on Thursday sentenced a leading magazine editor to a year in jail for libel in a case seen as a landmark for press freedom in Indonesia, a country supposedly in the era of reformasi. The verdict deals a harsh blow to press freedom and reinforces Indonesian courts' reputation for bizarre decisions, a key barrier to investment.

The court found three journalists from Indonesia's most respected news magazine Tempo guilty of libel, but, citing Indonesia's 1999 Press Law, the three-judge panel ruled that only editor-in-chief Bambang Harymurti should be punished.

The ruling adds fuel to the controversy over using the criminal code rather than the press law in media cases. Thursday's verdict ignored Supreme Court Chief Justice Bagir Manan's advice to judges not to criminalize media cases, as well as an appeals court ruling on Tuesday that overturned two previous convictions in related cases against Tempo because the suits were not brought under the press law. (None of the suits against Tempo have been brought under the press law).

Business magnate Tomy Winata has filed at least seven lawsuits against Tempo, most related to an article published on March 3, 2003, headlined "Ada Tomy di Tenabang?" (Is Tomy in Tanah Abang?). The article examined pervasive rumors of Winata's involvement in a February 2003 fire that gutted Jakarta's Tanah Abang, an aged textile market complex on the city's increasingly fashionable outskirts.

Redevelopment under fire
The article included reporter Ahmad Taufik's account of redevelopment plans for the market filed by an associate of Winata's from a source inside the city government. After the fire, Tanah Abang merchants told Taufik they had been asked to approve a redevelopment plan and that many market tenants had balked. In Indonesia, fires are a common tool for convincing reluctant occupants to leave property that tycoon's desire, and, in an earlier article for Tempo's daily newspaper, Taufik reported that merchants suspected arson in the blaze. City officials have not investigated the cause of the fire.

Taufik's March 3 article also included Winata's denial of involvement with the redevelopment plans, backed by additional quotes from Central Jakarta Mayor Hosea Petra Lumbun and the president of the company that operates Tanah Abang. The article raised the possibility that business rivals had tried to taint Winata by associating him with the Tanah Abang plan. Expert testimony at the trial declared the March 3 article overall favorable to Winata.

But Winata didn't think so. On March 9, thugs identifying Winata as their "boss" stormed Tempo's office, destroyed equipment and assaulted Taufik and another employee while police reportedly looked on. Winata has denied any connection to the incident, though he admits police called to ask his advice on handling the episode.

Two days later, Winata filed a complaint against Tempo that led to this latest trial. Taufik, Harymurti and the article's copy editor were charged with criminal defamation and publishing false information that led to a public disturbance. Prosecutors demanded two-year jail sentences for the trio with the stipulation that, if convicted, Harymurti begin his sentence immediately, even if he files an appeal. The court denied that motion, and Harymurti remains free pending appeal.

Denial allowed to ride
The closely watched trial was at times reduced to a farce. Both Winata and Mayor Lumbun testified they never talked to Tempo, despite authenticated tape recordings and phone records confirming such conversations. Their denials were a key plank in the prosecution's case, but judges refused to delay their verdict until the results of Tempo's perjury complaints against the two men were revealed.

But the real farce is that a criminal trial over a news article took place at all in Indonesia's era of reformasi, a period that began after former president Suharto's authoritarian rule was brought to an end.

For three decades Suharto's government shackled the press. Tempo, along two other popular news magazines, was shut down in 1994 after reporting a disagreement between the military and future president BJ Habibie over the purchase of defective East German naval vessels. Tempo didn't resume publishing until 1999, after Suharto's fall.

In the wave of post-Suharto reforms, Indonesia passed a press law that provides a public forum for grievances against the media. Under the press law, complainants are guaranteed a right of reply to articles, a press council mediates disputes, and, if mediation fails, aggrieved parties may file charges against the publication, with a maximum fine of Rp500 million (US$58,000).

However, there is no requirement that the public use the press law for its grievance against the media. Indonesia's compliant police, prosecutors and courts have made it easy for those with power to short circuit the press law and seek criminal and civil judgments with far higher fines against publications and individuals, along with jail time for journalists.

Presidential leadership
President Megawati Sukarnoputri led the way, endorsing a lawsuit last year against two editors of the Rakyat Merdeka (People's Freedom) newspaper for caricatures and articles that she called offensive. The editors were convicted and currently are appealing the verdict. Megawati and her rival in Monday's presidential run-off election, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have not commented on Thursday's verdict.

Tempo and its employees have faced at least nine suits, none brought under the press law. Winata has brought seven of these cases and won favorable lower court verdicts in four out of the five decided so far. A libel verdict centering on an article on Winata's possible involvement in a proposal for a casino in Southeast Sulawesi handed down in January levied a fine of $1 million, not the equivalent in rupiah, the first time an Indonesia court had fined a defendant in a foreign currency. Experts cited the dollar denomination as an attempt to add to the publication's hardship. Tempo lawyers said the verdict smacked of collusion between the court and Winata. The same court earlier dismissed charges against David Tijoe, who led last March's assault on the Tempo office.

The US dollar fine was not the first time the courts had taken extraordinary measures in a Tempo case. A day after the March 9 assault on Tempo's headquarters, Tempo founder Goenawan Mohamad made comments targeted at Winata that spurred him to launch a civil defamation case against Goenawan. As a result, prosecutors sought possession of Goenawan's home in hopes of selling it to guarantee for a possible future fine.

In all, Tempo has been sued for the equivalent of nearly $100 million, and current judgments under appeal total more than $45 million, in addition to possible jail time for employees.

Under Suharto, the government could sign an order to shut down publications and jail journalists, or worse. Now the government says the media is free, but journalists still face criminal prosecution and violence as in those days, with the added twist that publications face the threat of bankruptcy through ruinous fines. Until Indonesia's government takes Chief Justice Manan's advice to force litigants to use its press law in media cases and stops tolerating violence against the media, claims of a free press will remain bankrupt.
Write; by Gary LaMoshI. September 2004
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Thai herbal cream's sweet smell of success
Anti-ageing cream - the fruit of govt research in traditional Thai herbs - chalks up sales of 10,000 jars in five days. The Thai government seems to have hit on a winning formula in a fight against nature, combining traditional herbal ingredients with nanotechnology to produce a cream billed as 'anti-ageing'.
The product surpassed all expectations at Bangkok's recent Herbal Fair - 10,000 jars were sold in five days.

And if that sales trend continues, it may find its way onto shelves overseas, officials say.

The cosmetic cream took three years to develop by the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO), which has 40 researchers working on a range of products.
Apart from the mainstay Anti Retro Viral (ARV) cocktail used by HIV/Aids sufferers, their work rarely makes the news.

But that all changed last week when thousands of women queued up at the GPO stall to fork out 1,300 baht (S$50) for a 50g jar.
The cream's main ingredient is turmeric, used for centuries in South Asia and Thailand as a flavouring agent in curries - and as a beautifying skin application and internal herbal medicine.

As a medicine, it has anti-oxidant properties and is already being sold in the form of pills and capsules.

The active ingredient is curcumin, which is believed to help keep dry, aged and damaged skin well-moisturised.

The GPO's marketing of the cream dovetails with the government's strategy of promoting traditional Thai herbs in medicine and well-being.
One aspect is spas, while another is research - India and Thailand recently signed a Memorandum Of Understanding to cooperate on research in traditional herbs.
With an investment of around 500 million baht in its research facilities, the GPO has been self-sufficient, thanks mainly to its ARV cocktail.

Now, the cosmetic market beckons, but GPO managing director Thongchai Thavichachart told The Straits Times he still had his feet firmly on the ground.
'We first have to be strong in the local market, then we will go overseas,' said the paediatrician.

He calls the cream the 'national champion' of Thai herbal products and is ready to franchise marketing plans.

The GPO also wants to boost incentives for researchers, among other things.
'We have joint research in five PhD programmes in the UK, and we are now looking at strengthening the whole chain from research to product development and production to marketing,' said Dr Thongchai.
Write; by Nirmal Ghosh. September 2004

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Media bias mars Kazakhstan’s election campaign
Reports of widespread media bias are raisings doubts about the fairness of Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections on September 19. Despite regulations meant to ensure equal media access, television coverage continues to heavily favor pro-presidential parties, while opposition candidates struggle to gain access to the airwaves.
Media monitoring conducted by the non-governmental organization Elections and Democracy illustrates the case for concern. The report shows pro-presidential parties have increasingly dominated television news coverage of the campaign.

Within the first few weeks after the campaign season’s official August 30 kick-off, for instance, Otan (Fatherland), the party endorsed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was the subject of roughly 22 percent to 30 percent of all television news campaign reports, while Asar (All Together), the party headed by Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, received 15 percent to 24 percent of the coverage. By contrast, the centrist party Ak Zhol (Bright Path) received between 11 percent and 18 percent and the main opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) less than 8 percent. One notable exception to this trend: the commercial station Channel 31, which provided the roughly balanced coverage of the parliamentary race, according to Elections and Democracy.

Unequal television coverage of political parties is nothing new for Kazakhstan. In the 1999 parliamentary elections, nearly 60 percent of all campaign stories were dedicated to Otan.
A new election law passed this spring was supposed to prevent a repetition of that scenario with a requirement that the media provide equal coverage of all parties during the official campaign season. But the final regulations, critics contend, were released late in the campaign process and thus could not be effectively enforced.

Several factors drive Kazakhstan’s lopsided media coverage. First, the national media is a "party press," in which almost every media outlet has a party affiliation. DCK and Ak Zhol do not control TV stations and, therefore, are at a disadvantage in terms of television coverage. The TV market is almost fully monopolized by Otan and Asar, the country's two largest political parties. For instance, Khabar, run by Dariga Nazarbayeva, and KTK overwhelmingly favored Nazarbayeva’s Asar party, giving its candidates more than half of their coverage time of political parties. The two stations’ coverage of Ak Zhol, a sometime partner for presidential initiatives in parliament, was generally negative.

In July, Dariga Nazarbayeva temporarily stepped down from the management of Khabar to focus her energies on Asar’s campaign, but some opposition members say her influence over programming remains considerable. On September 8, a 40-person protest staged by the DCK-Communist Party bloc occurred in front of Khabar’s headquarters to demand equal candidate access to the state-funded station. In late August, DCK candidate Marzhan Aspandiyarova filed a lawsuit against Khabar and Nazarbayeva for similar complaints.

At the same time, many well-known broadcast journalists are also running for office. The election law requires these journalists to refrain from covering any election in which they are candidates, but television stations have nonetheless continued to feature them in their reports on candidates running for office. Critics contend that this serves as an indirect form of party endorsement. For example, two prominent Asar candidates, Artur Platonov and Oksana Vassilenko, both former KTK journalists, are still included in the station’s news broadcasts, only now as "candidates."

Political parties also control Kazakhstan’s newspapers, and more prominent parties are often affiliated with several, but the government’s presence there is less concentrated. As a July 23 National Democratic Institute report stated, "The printed press is diverse, but has a limited circulation, which places a greater burden on broadcast media."

One of the few areas in television coverage where all ten of Kazakhstan’s parties have received equal access has been televised debates. Though the OSCE has criticized the debates’ 50-minute format as "restrictive," the exchanges have been accessible to all parties and broadcast on state-run TV. After pressure from non-governmental organizations, political parties and various international bodies, three additional debates have been broadcast on Kazakhstan 1 and Khabar TV.

In-fighting between Otan and Asar has occasionally complicated coverage plans for television stations that support the Nazarbayev administration. Whereas in 1999, all media outlets were pro-Otan, the appearance of Asar has split coverage, with Nazarbayeva’s party proving an active competitor for airtime with Otan. The result has been television coverage of only those parties with which a station is affiliated.

In Almaty, for instance, on September 6 the cable network Alma-TV stopped broadcasting the Yuzhnaya Stolitsa station. Supposedly, "technical reasons" prompted the cancellation. However, Alma-TV is affiliated with Dariga Nazarbayeva’s media holding group Alma-Media, while Yuzhnaya Stolitsa tends to favor Otan.
In general, pro-presidential parties are much better financed than their competitors - a situation that allows these parties greater access to advertising. Though election advertising may seem cheap by US standards, in a country with an estimated per capita income of $1,914, television spots require deep pockets. A one-minute ad on Khabar, a national broadcaster, costs $2,000, while the Astana TV station ASTV charges about $2,200 for a two-minute ad. The bill run up by an aggressive ad campaign can mount quickly: the DCK leadership has already accused Asar of spending about $10 million on its parliamentary campaign, well in excess of campaign spending limits.

As elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, the attention allotted to well-financed, well-connected parties also stems in part from journalists’ own lack of income. Reporters routinely write paid articles ordered by candidates to strengthen their position or discredit their opponents. Such articles are not labeled as advertising. In the words of one local media observer, election season in Kazakhstan is when journalists can "really profit from their jobs."

In addition, there have been reports of local officials meddling in media coverage. In the Northern Kazakhstan oblast, for example, the Department of Internal Politics sent a letter requiring newspapers to publicize an Otan write-in campaign. According to the free speech watchdog Adil Soz, the letter described the required format and layout of the desired features and instructed journalists to write about the "functioning of the party as a highly respected organization."
Write; by Olivia Allison. September 2004
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Manila seeks donations from top taxpayers
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Thursday that she would ask the Philippines' top taxpayers to pay an extra 1 million pesos each to help the government plug its budget deficit.

Speaking before a group of businessmen in this southern city, Arroyo said she would use "friendly persuasion" to persuade the country's top 50,000 taxpayers to volunteer the amount, roughly $17,850, to make a "strong start" in her campaign to raise funds.

Manila's deficit stands at nearly 200 billion pesos. Arroyo has termed the nation's fiscal position a crisis and, without yet resorting to the force of law, has repeatedly urged Filipinos to take what measures they can to address the issue.

The 50 billion pesos that could be generated from wealthy taxpayers would help to narrow the budget deficit this year and also reduce a national debt of 3.36 trillion pesos. Interest payments on this debt account for almost one-third of the budget.

Jose Concepcion Jr., chief executive of Swift, one of the country's largest food companies, said Arroyo's plan was good but added that she should strive to collect taxes more effectively and stamp out corruption.

"If one wants to provide assistance to the state, that's probably a generous act," he said of Arroyo's latest appeal. "But I really think that what is important now is to be able to have individuals pay their taxes. We know who they are, we know the amounts they're not paying. We should force them to contribute to help the deficit."

Last month, the government instituted austerity measures - like forgoing lavish receptions at government functions - to help ease the problem.

The government has also pushed the Congress to pass eight tax laws that could generate an additional 80 billion pesos, and It has begun a drive to collect one peso from each of the country's 84 million people.

While these measures have been welcomed in some quarters, a recent survey by Pulse Asia, a Manila pollster, indicated that 78 percent of Filipinos opposed the new taxes. Critics of the government contend that belt-tightening programs, particularly the move to reduce so-called pork-barrel funds available to Congress, could cut into the delivery of basic social services.

"I know the pain of suffering and I'm no stranger to unpopularity, even if I have to prescribe the bitter pill," Arroyo said in her speech Thursday. "This is the time for shared goals and shared burdens," she added.

Arroyo's campaign, however, has focused attention on corporations owned or controlled by the government, whose executives have been paid salaries and allowances that seemed incongruent with her austerity campaign.

During a Senate hearing this week, Emilia Boncodin, the budget secretary, revealed that some of these executives were paid as much as 9 million pesos a year, salaries considered scandalously high here in view of the budget crisis.

The administration, embarrassed by the revelation, said it would review salaries and allowances at state enterprises, many of which are consistent money-losers. Their problems are a major factor in the ballooning of the country's debt..

Filipinos have also come to expect the government to improve its tax collection procedures, which have been among the least effective in Asia. An estimated 120 billion pesos is lost each year to tax evaders; critics of the government have asserted that Manila needs better revenue collection, not new taxes.
Source; International Herald Tribune. September 2004
Write; by Carlos H. Conde
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