ASEAN gets unexpected Xmas trade bonus
Kuala Lumpur: ASEAN leaders hopes that they might export their way out of trouble got an unexpected bonus Wednesday when Japan announced tax cuts. Earlier Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto said,``Japan must think of policies which will be advantageous for Asian nations as well as Japan.''
Within 12 hours of leaving Kuala Lumpur, Japanese leader Hashimoto announced a special two trillion yen ($15.7 billion) cut in personal income taxes designed to stimulate personal spending. Earlier the Japanese leader said it was impossible to increase import levels on ASEAN goods because of the low personal consumption level in Japan.
``I have decided to carry out a special income tax cut as an emergency measure,'' Hashimoto told a hastily called morning news conference. ``I think these steps will make the economic recovery trend stronger.''
Further Southeast Asian leaders on Tuesday asked Japan to consider joining them in a effort to reduce the use of the U.S. dollar in cross-border finance. The Philippine president said Japan was asked to consider accepting Southeast Asian currencies in transactions during a meeting on Tuesday between ASEAN leaders and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
``There was also a proposal during our ASEAN plus Japan meeting this morning that Japan could also consider this approach in as much as much of our foreign loans are denominated either in dollars or in yen,'' Ramos said. ``This would therefore be an advantage to all of us. But these are just proposals that will be studied by our finance ministers and central bank authorities.''
The goal of the plan, first discussed in public on Monday by Mahathir, would be to increase the use of regional currencies in trade and finance as substitutes for hard currencies, especially the dollar. ``But since we are emphasising the expansion and deepening of intra-ASEAN trade, that we could therefore among ourselves, based on agreements, pay for our goods and services transferred from each other in Southeast Asian currencies.'' Ramos said
Mahathir said on Monday that ASEAN leaders had asked their finance ministers to study the implications of reducing the region's dependency on the U.S. dollar. The huge depreciation of the region's currencies against the dollar has made many imports much more expensive and raised the cost of repaying loans denominated in dollars. But if a country's trade was evenly distributed between many different currencies, it would be less affected by any one of them moving dramatically. If several currencies fell together -- as has happened in Asia this year -- trade between those countries would be less affected if it was denominated in their own currencies.
So Mahathir on Monday suggested that ASEAN nations could use their own currencies to buy each other's goods or even resort to barter. ``As the Korean won has also depreciated, we would consider it useful that the arrangements that could be made in trade between ASEAN countries could also include Korea so as to reduce dependence on hard currency,'' Mahathir said.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The three-day summit was wound up with a dinner hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday evening.
Twelve Asian nations formed a sense of unity through adversity during a three-day summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's host Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday. ``I'm a little bit optimistic now that a lot more people understand the problem...it was impressed on everyone that when you lose billions of dollars, you don't regain billions of dollars just by marking time,'' he told a final news conference.
``There is a sense of unity, unity in adversity if you like, because all of us are suffering from the same disease, probably being caused by the same virus,'' he said.
Asked about previous charges of a conspiracy against Southeast Asian
economies, he told the news conference:``That is the effect, whether there
is a conspiracy or not, and when you are up against forces that you can't
fight against, there is little that you can do... We have to accept that
in this world there is no equality. Might is still right.''
Mandela bows out in style
South Africa: Nelson Mandela handed over leadership of South Africa's ruling party Tuesday, delivering a fighting, four-hour farewell address in which he renewed hopes of reconciliation but said some whites were still trying to destabilize the country.
The militant speech by the 79-year-old leader of South Africa's peaceful transition to black rule, also challenged supporters to work for the common good instead of personal gain. With his words, Mandela ushered in the ruling African National Congress party's 50th national conference, since humble beginnings in 1912, where it elected a new leadership and set policies to carry South Africa into the next century.
His speech at the University of the North West set a revolutionary tone for the conference, which will see an older generation of leaders step aside for a new order led by Mbeki, now the deputy president of the ANC and the country also marked the final step of its transition from a liberation movement to a political party.
Mandela will remain president of South Africa until the next national election in 1999, which the ANC is expected to win. That would make his successor as party president, Thabo Mbeki, the next government leader. Mandela who spent 27 years in prison for resisting apartheid painstakingly outlined the problems confronting the ANC.
Mandela warned, " The defenders of apartheid privilege continue to sustain a conviction that an opportunity will emerge in future when they can activate (their) counter-insurgency machinery. ...Elements among the former ruling group, especially among the Afrikaners, suffer from a sense of disempowerment and marginalization. ... They continue to be imprisoned by notions of white supremacy and of supposed Afrikaner interests that are separate and opposed to the interests of the rest of the population. ... "
``The leopard has not changed its spots,'' he said of the National Party .``Various elements of the former ruling group have been working to establish a network which would launch or intensify a campaign of destabilization,'' Mandela said. Their goals, he said, include weakening the ANC and using crime to make the country ungovernable.
He also accused the media of perpetuating apartheid-era propaganda at the behest of white bosses. Since his party took power after the nation's first all-race election in 1994, he said, ``The bulk of the mass media in our country has set itself up as a force opposed to the ANC.''
"We will have to travel a difficult road before we can truly unite the majority of our people, without regard to race, color and gender, around a common patriotism", Mandela said."What this points to is the need for us to increase our political work among the whites in general and the Afrikaner population in particular.
When he finished the speech, using the revolutionary slogan ``power to the people,'' the delegates stood and sang his name, clapping rhythmically, as ANC leaders lined up to embrace him in congratulations. Even his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, got a lengthy hug.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was divorced from President Mandela last
year, accepted her nomination Thursday to the governing body and was considered
likely to be chosen. She declined pre-conference nominations for the post
of deputy party president earlier under media criticism. But she remains
a heroine to many grassroots supporters, especially downtrodden black women
The ugly American returns to Baghdad
Baghdad : US weapons inspectors Scott Ritter arrived back in town Thursday with an ugly vengeance according to CNN's Peter Arnett.
Ritter heading a new 15 man inspection team flew in from Bahrain Thursday arriving at Habbaniya airport, 90 km (55 miles) northwest of Baghdad. Breaking protocol the team conducted a surprise search of a nearby tourist resort where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is known to sometimes stay, though it should have gone first to Baghdad and met Iraqi officials before visiting any site.
INA, the Iraqi news agency quoted director of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate Hussam Mohammad Amin as saying. ``An inspection team headed by the American Scott Ritter inspected today the Tourist City of Habbaniya... a tourist site where a lot of citizens spend their holidays ... The team has found nothing of banned weapons, which stresses that the information which the (U.N.) Special Commission depends on is baseless or biased,'' Amin said.
He said the inspection of the site lasted for two hours and 15 inspectors took part. ``The way followed by Ritter today contradicts normal procedures (of the U.N. inspectors),'' Amin said.
Iraq has previously accused Ritter of being an American spy wanting to create problems. Earlier this year INA reported Ritter as leading the controversial sudden inspection of Iraqi sensitive sites, `` Colonel Scott Ritter...requested to enter the office of the political section in the Intelligence Service which contains the secrets of this service. We did not allow him to do so. `` Colonel Ritter requested to go to a site related to the security of the Presidency which had been already inspected twice...This time we did not allow him to do so,''
" Colonel Ritter, the chief inspector who insisted without any justification on the entry into these sites, is an officer in the U.S. Army,'' Tareq Aziz has previously remarked, adding that the Council was ``aware of the United States' position towards Iraq and its political regime.''
`` We have serious concern that the entry into these sites does not aim to implement the mandate of the Special Commission...but to make use of the facilities available to the Special Commission as a cover to detect the security systems of Iraq ...and the security of its leadership,'' Aziz said.
The lightening UNSCOM raid comes on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting on a Butler briefing on his talks this week in Iraq. In a written report, Butler said Baghdad insisted it would not "under any circumstances" allow inspections of presidential sites and others it calls symbols of its national sovereignty.
But Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, said that Butler's information is inaccurate and that it does not reflect Iraq's willingness to cooperate on some technical weapons issues. Iraqi officials have maintained that the weapons inspectors completed their work long ago, yet they continue to pursue the issue as a political vendetta, on behalf of the United States.
Yet Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz on Friday took foreign reporters on a tour of ``presidential sites'' in Baghdad which Iraq had declared off-limits to U.N. weapons inspectors. ``I have invited you this morning for a special occasion. We are going to take you in a tour to presidential sites in the city of Baghdad,'' Aziz told reporters before they started the tour.
``We would like you to see these palaces where a lot of mysteries have been fabricated about them, so you can see by yourselves these are normal presidential sites,'' he said in English.
Seoul: The election of opposition leader Kim Dae-jung on Friday brings reduced tensions on the world's last cold war frontier and puts reunificatrion of the divided Korean peninsula on the agenda.
``I hereby propose to North Korea to resume a dialogue based on the South-North Korean Basic Agreement,'' Kim said. ``National reunification can be discussed and achieved later through progressive and gradual means,'' he said.
Ties between the two Koreas -- which have been technically at war for since the 1950-53 Korea War ended in an uneasy truce ``If things were in better shape on both sides of the border, Kim's election might have marked a swift turning point in ties,'' one diplomat said. The North Korean economy has been shattered by floods and droughts and South Korea struggling to repay its estimated $171 billion in foreign debt.
Most analysts expect any progress, if at all, to come through talks underway at present between the two Koreas, China and the United States in Geneva to replace the fraying armistice with a permanent peace. However Noriyuki Suzuki, editorial director of Radio Press, a Tokyo-based agency that monitors North Korean media, said Kim's election also gave the South the moral high ground for the moment in dealing with Pyongyang. The veteran politician has suffered for democracy, spending long spells in prison under South Korea's former military rulers.
``Kim is known for his democratic credentials ,'' he said. ``The North will find it hard not to talk to him.'' Suzuki also said that in a culture where age was respected in leaders, Kim's age of 74, though a handicap in the presidential election, gave him a boost in dealing with North Korea's 55-year-old Kim Jong Il, son of the north's founder and who took power earlier this year.
His victory capped a remarkable turnaround for a man once regarded as a pariah by successive army-backed regimes. A former dissident, Kim survived assassination bids, a kidnapping and a death sentence before achieving his life-long ambition on his fourth attempt.
Japan welcomed Kim's victory.. `Thanks to your lofty vision and prodigious experience in politics, we are confident you will lead your country to ever-greater development,'' Hashimoto said. Koreans still have bitter memories of Japan's harsh colonial rule from 1905-1945.
The election commission certified Kim's victory and formally declared him president-elect in the afternoon after the closest election in the country's history. Kim won 40.3 percent of the vote against 38.7 percent for the governing party's Lee Hoi-chang. Kim is not due to take office until February 25, when incumbent President Kim Young-sam completes his five-year term.
Geneva: A U.N. envoy has completed a six-day mission to Libya and will report next week to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the impact of Security Council sanctions there, a U.N. spokeswoman said Friday.
Vladimir Petrovsky, director-general of the U.N. European headquarters who made three previous trips in 1992, headed a four-member mission to Libya at Annan's request. He met foreign, agriculture, transport and health ministry officials, who briefed him on the effects of sanctions, according to Libya's state-run television this week.
Libyan media organs said the discussions have focused on the negative effects of coercive measures imposed on Tripoli by the UN Security Council since April 15, 1992. The two parties especially discussed the consequences of sanctions in the areas of health, agriculture and transport, and their impact on the implementation of general development projects.
A United Nations mission arrived Saturday in Tripoli to assess the impact of the embargo imposed on Libya by the Security Council on April 15, 1992. On Saturday evening, the three-person UN team met with the secretaries-general of the ministries of planning, economy and trade, health and social security, as well as agriculture.
On Sunday the mission, led by Russia's Vladimir Petrovski, inspected several hospitals in Tripoli and its suburb and saw how these institutions had been seriously affected by shortage of drugs due to the air embargo.
The team also visited agricultural projects affected by the lack of seeds and fertilizers, as well as residential construction sites which have been stalled for lack of materials after the freezing of Libyan assets abroad. They also held discussions with Abdelati Labidi, minister of state for foreign affairs, in charge of European affairs and Tahar Jehimi, governor of the Libyan central bank.
Due to the sanctions, drugs and vaccines are seriously in short supply in several Libyan hospitals. Agricultural production fell by 50 percent in the country due to lack of inputs such as seedlings and fertilizers, according to a study released in June this year.
The study said there has been a rise in death rates due to road accidents as more people tend to use the roads in the absence of air traffic caused by the embargo. On the other hand, 75 percent of the fleet of the Libyan Arab Airlines which has about 30 aircraft are not serviceable due to lack of spares.
The air, diplomatic and military embargo were reinforced in 1994 with the freezing of Libyan assets abroad and an embargo on oil industry equipment at the behest of the United States, Great Britain and France.
The Arab League vigourously denounced the continued imposition of the sanctions against Libya during last weeks 8th summit of the Islamic Conference in Teheran.
Later today the UN general assembly was sheduled to discuss the declaration of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU on the aerial and naval military attack against the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya by the present United States Administration in April 1986
Havana: Cuban President Fidel Castro has granted Cubans a public holiday on Christmas Day as a special gesture to Pope John Paul ahead of his visit to the island, state media said on Sunday.
The Cuban Catholic Church has expressed its "sincere satisfaction" with the announcement that December 25th will be celebrated as an official holiday in Cuba."I express satisfaction and gratitude for a decision that was highly desired by the people and the Catholic church in Cuba,'' chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. ``This is particularly so because it is happening ahead of the Pope's visit.''
The announcement of the decision was made at the final ordinary session of the 4th Legislature over the weekend. Cuban President Fidel Castro said the decision to make Christmas a holiday was a special request of Pope John Paul II and was made in consideration of his upcoming visit in January.
Prensa Latina news agency said Castro had also said Cuban media would publish a Christmas message that the pontiff traditionally sends to countries he visits. The pope, set to visit Cuba Jan. 21-25, had asked a year ago for the Christmas holiday to be restored on the island. He made the request to Castro through an aide when he and the Cuban leader met for the first time at the Vatican in November 1996, Cuban church officials said this week.
Speaking about the papal visit, Castro also said the government had agreed to make available half of its transport to ensure people can attend masses the pope will celebrate in the cities of Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba. Cuban church authorities have been concerned there will not be enough transport.
He also attacked anti-Castro exiles in the United States who have been critical of the pope for visiting the island. ``They cannot give orders to the pope, and they should know that,'' Castro said, adding Cuba had shown its openness by allowing a church-arranged cruise ship that will come from Miami during the papal visit bringing thousands of Cuban-Americans and other Americans who want to see the pope.
Some 15,000 people born in Cuba and living in the United States will be visiting the island for Christmas or the new year. Director of the Foreign Ministry department for Cubans Resident Abroad, Jose Cabanas, said the size of the number was ''a clear display of the relation established between the nation and the emigrants.''
''These 15,000 people must sign a sworn statement before leaving the United States stating they have not travelled to the island in the last 12 months,'' he said. The regulations on the US economic blockade on Cuba states visitors must travel through a third country, normally Mexico or the Bahamas, and are only allowed to spend 100 dollars per day. Nonetheless, an ever increasing number of people travel to the island two or three times a year to visit their close relatives
Although the pope has stated publicly his opposition to the 35-year-old U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, Castro said Havana had put no conditions on the papal visit and not asked that the pontiff speak against the embargo. ``It's something of elementary dignity. He should feel free to say what he pleases,'' the Cuban leader said.