Thursday, September 2, 2010

'Food security,' Pakistan's main concern

The flooding, considered the worst in Pakistan's history, has left a fifth of the
country under water

Source: Press TV

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has expressed concerns over food security due to the long lasting damage to the nation's agriculture.

He said floods have ravaged Pakistan's economy, and called the social impact of the disaster "serious."

"The floods have inflicted damage to the economy which may, by some estimates, reach USD 43 billion, while affecting 30 percent of all agricultural land," Reuters quoted Gilani as saying during a Cabinet briefing on Wednesday.

Agriculture is the core of Pakistan's economy and a major source of employment in the impoverished country.

"This economic loss will translate into massive job losses affecting incomes of thousands of families, which may have serious social implications,” the prime minister noted.

The international aid agency, Oxfam, has warned that Pakistan will face severe problems unless reconstruction begins immediately.

Torrential monsoon rains have triggered massive floods that have moved steadily from north to south of Pakistan over the past month.

The flooding, considered the worst in the country's history has claimed the lives of at least 1,600 people and displaced more than 17 million others, one out of every nine Pakistanis.

It has also affected the lives of 20 million others and left a fifth of the country under water.

The United Nations has warned that millions of children risk contracting deadly diseases while in contact with contaminated water.

World Bank boosts Pakistan aid to $1bn

Source: Press TV

As funding for flood-devastated Pakistan has almost stalled, the World Bank has boosted its support to one billion dollars from 900 million dollars.

The World Bank said in a statement on Wednesday that it has made the funding available to finance immediate recovery needs and longer-term reconstruction.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick also said the flood-hit Pakistan needs the world's support to meet urgent humanitarian needs.

Meanwhile, Manuel Bessler, head of the UN coordination agency, said the funding had been almost stalled since the beginning of last week.

The Pakistani government announced that the country had suffered losses of about 43 billion dollars because of the floods.

Heavy monsoon rains triggered the natural disaster, affecting 30 percent of agricultural land and more than 10 percent of the population.

According to the United Nations, more than 18 million people have so far been affected.

United Nations Children's Fund Executive Director Anthony Lake said the disaster has affected nearly 8.6 million children.

Pakistan's government has confirmed 1,645 people dead and 2,479 injured but officials warn that millions are at risk of fatal diseases and food shortages.

US private sector cuts 10,000 jobs

The August private sector layoffs the worst in the past seven months

Source: Press TV

The private sector in the United States has cut 10,000 jobs in August to underscore a weakening labor market, the ADP Employer Services says.

The drop last month represented the first monthly decline since last December, while it failed to meet economists' estimates that recruiting would edge higher.

Most experts had predicted 13,000 jobs to be created.

"The decline in private employment in August confirms a pause in the recovery already evident in other economic data," ADP said, AFP reported.

"The deceleration in employment was evident in the major sectors and by size of business."

ADP said over those six months, from February to July, the monthly gain in employment on average was 37,000 with no indication of acceleration.

"Today's report brings clearly disappointing news for the labor market," said Natixis analyst Thomas Julien.

The data provided by ADP is closely monitored as a foreshadower of Friday's government non-farm payrolls figures, which are expected to show that the US economy axed 131,000 workers.

It, however, is expected to show an increase of 42,000 employees in the private sector.

Germany approves austerity measures

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Source: Press TV

Germany's Cabinet has approved budget cuts valued at around EUR 80 billion which critics say can hit the poorest and endanger the country.

The measures in the plan include a new tax on passenger air travel but postpone a decision on a planned tax on nuclear-fuel rods until later this month.

The spending cuts include big cuts in unemployment and parental leave benefits between 2011 and 2014.

Based on one of the most controversial measures in the plan, German energy companies will be charged billions of euros in return for extending the lifetime of nuclear power plants beyond a planned shutdown in 2020.

A number of Germany's nuclear power plant operators have warned that the tax on nuclear fuel could make reactors unprofitable and accelerate the country's exit from atomic-energy generation.

"We're doing what we need to do in line with the European Stability and Growth Pact," Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said after the cabinet meeting.

"In the end, this decision is connected to energy policy," Schaeuble noted adding, “the government is open to further negotiations with utilities on the exact structure of the tax, but the sector will still need to contribute EUR 2.3 billion, whether through the fuel-rod tax or another mechanism."

Tens of thousands of people took part in demonstrations against the austerity package when it was first introduced in June. Many critics say the cuts could endanger Germany, and as a result, affect Europe's economic recovery.

According to a poll by the television channel ARD, 79 percent of Germans believe the plan is not socially balanced.

The package of budget cuts approved by the cabinet must also be considered by the Lower House of parliament, where it is to be debated in conjunction with Germany's federal budget for 2011. Upper House approval is not necessary.

IMF warns countries of debt risks

IMF economists say the recession has worsened the debt problem, but argue that
stimulus plans are responsible for a small portion of the debt increase

Source: Press TV

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that many wealthy countries are amassing risky debt burdens, which could spark a market-wide panic.

In a three-paper report published on Wednesday, the IMF said a number of countries are running dangerously close to their "debt limit," a development that could prompt markets to massively raise interest rates on government debt.

Analyzing 23 advanced economies, the fund has declared Greece, Italy, Portugal and Japan to be most at risk of exhausting debt capacities, while countries such as the US, Britain, Spain, Ireland and Iceland have been named as those who fell into the second block of threatened countries.

According to the IMF, the risk of one of these countries being forced to restructure their debt is being "significantly overestimated" by the markets.

"The current risk of default in Europe is overestimated," IMF economist Paolo Mauro said.

The IMF estimates show that Greece's debt would equal about 150% of the GDP by 2013 despite severe government cutbacks.

Meanwhile, Greece and other advanced European countries are very unlikely to default, IMF economists said, disputing market analysts who have warned that the IMF bailout has only delayed a day of reckoning.

"Once countries endure pain of adjustment, they persevere," rather than default, Mauro concluded.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama ends US mission in Iraq

US President Barack Obama

Source: Press TV

US President Barack Obama announces the end of the country's combat mission in Iraq, repeating his predecessor George W. Bush some seven years ago.

"Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over," he said on Tuesday.

The US led Iraq's invasion in March 2003 based on allegations that the country harbored weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Later findings proved that not only Iraq was not in possession of the arms, but also that the officials who rallied support for the invasion had been informed about the nonexistence of the weapons.

Months into the invasion, Bush also announced the mission accomplished. The forces, however, continued to stay to date and incite militants, who had not taken a liking to the long-drawn-out presence.

Iraq's people, meanwhile, bore the brunt of the violence, losing over one million to either the crossfire or instances of the forces' deliberate acts of aggression.

Taking serious toll on the local residents were two wholesale US attacks on Fallujah in central Iraq in 2004.

A study, titled "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009," revealed that the toxic trail left by the American onslaughts have proved deadlier than the one besetting the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which were targeted by US atomic bombs in 1945.

Nearly 4,500 American forces were also killed through out the years in Iraq.

About 50,000 of the troopers are currently stationed in the country despite the Tuesday announcement. The commander-in-chief also said that the US diplomats, aid workers and advisors would remain in Iraq.

Washington has also unveiled plans to increase the number of American security contractors, tasked with securing American diplomats and diplomatic facilities, including the American embassy.

The employees are entitled by the US State Department to carry firearms. Staffers with the most infamous of the security firms, Blackwater, currently known as Xe Services, LLC, killed 17 civilians in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad's Nisour Square during a shooting spree in 2007.

The US plans to fortify the embassy have raised new suspicion about the diplomatic outpost's purpose in the also politically-gridlocked country, currently without a future government since parliamentary polls on March 7, which failed to produce a conclusive winner.

Obama, though, said the US had redoubled "efforts to strengthen Iraq's Security Forces and support its government and people."

The US president also announced the US military will be focusing on the war in Afghanistan.

US embassy the shadow govt. in Iraq?

Source: Press TV

US plans to fortify its embassy in Iraq have raised new suspicion about the diplomatic outpost's purpose in the politically-gridlocked country.

The White House has reduced the number of its troops in Iraq to around 50,000 and said it would take all its forces out of the country by the next year. But Washington has also announced plans to increase the number of American security contractors, tasked with securing American diplomats and diplomatic facilities.

In an interview with Press TV, Entifadh Qanbar from the Shia parliamentary front Iraqi National Alliance (INA) referred to the nationwide misgivings fueled by the planned security buildup.

"I think having 20,000 or 10,000 security personnel on the Iraqi ground is a serious violation of the Iraqi sovereignty," he said.

"…it will give the impression and the perception that the US embassy is acting beyond its capacity as a diplomatic embassy rather than interference in the Iraqi politics or, as some people would like to call it, acting as a shadow government…"

The contractors would be authorized to run surveillance missions in search for alleged roadside bombs, fly spy planes and man radar facilities. The number of the US-deployed aircraft, helicopters, mine-resistant vehicles and armor-plated cars will also go up to match the reinforcement.

The most infamous among contractors is private security contractor Blackwater, currently known as Xe Services, LLC. In one incident, Blackwater employees killed 17 civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square during a shooting spree in 2007.

Frank Wisner, former US ambassador to Egypt and India said, "We paid a terrible price…for what we did with our intervention and it should give us great great pause. Before the United States commits force and changes the regime, we need to take through very carefully what it takes to do that, what the follow-up is and what our responsibility is over the years to come and do a careful cost-benefit analysis. Just to go in because we have the capability is not a good idea."

The comments came at a time of political vulnerability in Iraq resulting from the March 7 parliamentary polls that did not produce a clear winner to form a new government.

Euro jobless rate glued at 10 percent

Eurozone unemployment has been unchanged since March

Source: Press TV

The unemployment rate across the eurozone has remained at a record rate of 10 percent in July for the fifth month running, official figures show.

According to European Union data (Eurostat) released on Tuesday, some 15.8 million people within the 16-nation eurozone were jobless in July as the eurozone unemployment rate remains at its highest level since the euro's virtual birth in 1999.

Although the overall unemployment for the eurozone remained flat, the situation differed from country to country.

Germany, Austria and Malta recorded declines in their unemployment rates compared to a year earlier, while Spain retained the bloc's highest jobless rate of 20.3 percent, seasonally-adjusted Eurostat figures showed.

Throughout the wider 27-nation EU the rate also remained unchanged at 9.6 percent, which amounts to more than 23 million unemployed in July.

Eurostat also said Tuesday that the currency zone's annual inflation rate plunged in August, suggesting that the European Central Bank has plenty of room to continue its ultra-loose monetary policy.

Data show the inflation rate for the 16 countries that share the euro eased to 1.6% in August from 1.7% in July.

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