Soros targets Aussie dollar
Sydney: The Australian dollar plunged to a fresh 12-year low over the weekend under short-selling from hedge funds, raising fears that the Asian currency crisis has now reached Australia.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has spent at least A$3.0 billion (US$1,830 million) in the past 24 hours, buying Australian dollars in the face of heavy selling by US investment banks and hedge funds, including billionaire speculator George Soros dealers said.
``All the talk is of Soros,'' said a dealer who asked for anonymity. ``There's something of a war going on and it's coming down to a question of credibility.'' ``We don't expect the RBA to give up without a fight.''
Soros played a major role in the recent Asian currency turmoil and the exit of sterling from the European Monetary System in 1991, betting around 10 billion sterling and making a cool billion in profit.
The seige of the Australian dollar follows international ratings agency Moody's putting the New Zealand "on review for a possible downgrade", in response to a ballooning NZ current account deficit – the same prospect now facing Australia.
"The review will focus on the various factors that will affect the external position of the country over the medium term, including developments in Asia, the strength of the domestic sector and the country's ability to increase savings," Moody's said. The NZ dollar fell below US52c on the news.
The International Monetary Fund says about $US100 billion ($166 billion) is held in hedge funds around the world.They work by pooling money from wealthy individuals and, increasingly, US mutual funds to make investments in almost any type of asset, including equities, currencies, commodities, anywhere in the world.
The RBA intervened aggressively to rescue the currency from breaking the 60 US cent barrier, as investment banks and hedge funds sold massive amounts of local dollars. But the spending spree bought only temporary relief and the central bank was believed to be standing alone in the market.
So intense was the pressure on the dollar that RBA governor Ian Macfarlane took the unusual step of confirming the bank's intervention in the market in a speech in London on Thursday, declaring the currency market had over-reacted.
``A significant fall in the exchange rate as we have had was always going to be part of the adjustment to this external shock (from Asia), but an overshooting would be in no-one's interest,'' Macfarlane said.
The RBA's foreign exchange reserves stand at around A$20 billion -- a sum any respectable U.S. hedge fund could raise with a few phone calls. Hedge funds represent many of the world's biggest individual investors and have access to billions of dollars of credit.
In 1992, worldwide selling of sterling forced it out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) of the European Monetary System, despite all-out intervention by the Bank of England and two hikes in interest rates. One hedge fund alone, run by well-known speculator George Soros, made nearly a billion U.S. dollar profit.
Iraq's patience runs out on UN embargo
Baghdad: Sanctions-hit Iraq said on Saturday it will accept no more humanitarian aid and urged friends instead to strongly campaign to end the murderous eight-year economic embargo.
"The cabinet sent its thanks and appreciation to all parties and people who have exerted efforts to offer material assistance to Iraq under the title of humanitarian aid," the INA statement said. "The basis now is that those parties and people in solidarity with our people should strongly raise the slogan of lifting the unjust sanctions on Iraq".
UN sanctions, imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, have led to the death of 1.5 million people. Iraq and welfare agencies say that foreign assistance, and the supplies it buys under its oil-for-food accord with the United Nations, cannot be an alternative to the full lifting of sanctions.
But relief officials say the physical hardships of Iraq's 22 million people also mask the long-term erosion of an education system that once produced the Middle East's highest literacy rate in a country proud of being the cradle of ancient civilisations.
Under the new Iraq-U.N. programme which allows Baghdad to sell $4.5 billion worth of oil for humanitarian goods, Iraq earmarks $100 million for education, compared with 1.5 billion dinars ($4.5 billion at the official rate) it spent before the embargo.
Gloria Fernandez of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said appalling conditions at schools and impoverishment of the family had led to a decrease in school enrolment and to an increase in the dropout rate, mainly in primary schooling.
In New York Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf said Friday his country is willing to work with the United Nations, but he rejected U.N. weapons inspectors' idea that there is "a road map" Iraq must follow to prove that it has eliminated its prohibited armaments.
Sahhaf reiterated Iraq's contention that it has complied fully with U.N. disarmament requirements but is unable to escape the burden of crippling sanctions because UNSCOM is controlled by the United States and Britain.
"The people in UNSCOM are still insisting on the same non-starter approach of casting doubts, building their understanding on assumptions, suspicions and not on facts and figures," Sahhaf said. Sahhaf comments come after Richard Butler gave Security Council members a day-and-a-half-long briefing that the United States and British ambassadors said showed Iraq was still hiding information, and possibly forbidden weapons
Chief inspector Richard Butler, who briefed the council, said his teams were ``on the edge of accounting'' for all chemical or biological artillery shells but the gap in Iraq's stocks of biological agents is ``fairly large.''
During the two-day briefing, Butler presented aerial photographs and other documents to justify his claims that Iraq has failed to comply with U.N. orders, issued after the 1991 Gulf War, to destroy all long-range missiles and chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.
He said there was a possibility that the inspectors may never achieve ``100 percent verification'' in some weapons areas and the council must ultimately decide how much is enough.
Butler, who is due to visit Baghdad from June 11 to 15, said he would bring Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz a so-called ``road map'' of issues that Iraq must still fulfil.
``So I've said I will also need to discuss with him (Aziz) the driving instructions for that road map. That is, how long it would take; what the steps along the way would be; what would be the best ways for us to fulfil this list -- whether by technical evaluation meetings or by further inspections or by looking at documents that we need.''
Related: South News Iraq index
US used nerve gas during Vietnam War
Washington: The US military used nerve gas on a mission to kill Americans who defected during the Vietnam War, CNN and Time Magazine said Sunday in a joint report.
The report quoted military officials and soldiers who took part in the raids as saying that the sarin gas was dropped on more than 20 missions in Laos and North Vietnam. Former military officials who participated in the operation in September 1970 said their job was to kill defectors from the US military.
The nerve gas attacks were approved by the Nixon White House as well as the CIA, the report said, quoting as its main source retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, a Vietnam-era chief of naval operations and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Adm. Moorer confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used in 1970 in a secret raid into Laos called Operation Tailwind, according to the report aired on CNN Sunday.
Capt. Eugene McCarley, commander of the mission, told the program "Newsstand: CNN & Time" that "upwards of 100" people perished in the raid, including women and children. Platoon leader Lt. Robert Van Buskirk estimated up.
The report, which also appears in the issue of Time on sale Monday, said that the United States has not before admitted to using sarin in combat. Sarin is the gas used in a 1995 Tokyo subway attack that killed 12 people and made thousands ill.
Moorer told the program the White House national security team of President Richard Nixon approved use of the nerve gas and the CIA had partial responsibility for the operation. He said he was speaking out now because of his respect for history.
The year of the Tailwind mission, Nixon had pledged a no-first-use policy on nerve gas as part of his commitment to the Geneva Protocol limiting chemical weapons use, but the Senate had not yet ratified the chemical weapons treaty.
Van Buskirk told CNN & Time he had orders to kill everyone, including U.S. defectors. "It was pretty well understand that if you came across a defector, and could prove it to yourself beyond a reasonable doubt, do it. Under any circumstance, kill them," he said. "It wasn't about bringing them back, it was to kill them."
Soldiers who took part in the secret September 1970 Tailwind mission -- about 60 miles deep into Laos -- were in the Studies and Observations Group, SOG, which mounted operations against unusual targets, using unusual weapons.
Van Buskirk said an Air Force colonel warned him about the lethal gas before the mission and urged him to be sure that his soldiers took their M-17 gas masks, designed to protect against nerve gas. The SOG commandos were also issued atropine, a nerve gas antidote, CNN & Time reported.
"I believe that there were American defectors in that group of people in that village, because there was no ... sign of any kind of restraint," he said. "In retrospect I believe that mission was to wipe out those longshadows," as defectors were known since they were taller than Laotians and Vietnamese.
In the Tailwind raid, U.S. planes passed over the village base camp
and dropped the deadly nerve gas. SOG commandos entered the camp the next
morning, and according to Mike Hagen, who was a platoon sergeant, "basically
destroyed everything there."
Mahathir warns of new Asian war of liberation
Tokyo: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday warned of a violent backlash by Asians, involving even a ``guerilla war,'' if foreigners used the region's financial crisis to take over their economies.
In a speech delivered a Tokyo symposium on the future of Asia, Mahathir also took the IMF to task for delaying payments to Indonesia and criticised long-standing nuclear powers for condemning Indian and Pakistani atomic tests.
Dr Mahathir has been critical of international bailouts of Asian economies led by the International Monetary Fund and has blamed the World Bank body for being insensitive to Asian people. Mahathir, who has long argued foreign speculators and companies are behind Asia's economic woes, used some of his harshest language so far in portraying a possible near Doomsday future for the people of the region.
``Actually there is not going to be much of a future for Asia, at least a future distinctly Asian,'' he said. ``Asian countries will prosper again, but not as Asian countries.''
Economies in the region would be run by huge foreign corporations, practically all owned and managed by non-Asians, while governments would submit because they would know they were up against forces they could not defeat, Mahathir said.
``But the people will show their resentment against those outsiders who will lord it over them once again,'' he said. ``Sooner, rather than later, they will think of regaining control over their economies. They will regard this as a new war of liberation,'' he said.
``Even if they want to avoid violence, violence must come as the new capitalists disregard the signs,'' he said. ``There will be no war of independence of course. But there will be a kind of guerilla war which will not be good for anyone.''
Mahathir said the region was threatened by a new breed of foreign capitalists with trillions of dollars at their disposal and whose media control could silence all opposition. Asian countries on their own would not be able to stop foreign capitalists dominating the world and making lots of money in the process, he said.
Mahathir also had harsh words for what he suggested was hypocritical criticism that has rained down on India and Pakistan for their nuclear testing.
``I know there are countries with nuclear capabilities who have not
really been slapped on the hand and yet they make a big show over the tests
undertaken by the two South Asian countries,'' he said. Malaysia opposed
nuclear weapons no matter who held them. ``Let's apply sanctions to all
nuclear countries,'' he said.
Australian swims from Mexico to Cuba
Havana: Australian marathon swimmer Susie Maroney, braved sharks, jellyfish, choppy seas to reach Cuba's western tip early Monday after a record-breaking swim from Mexico.
23-old-Maroney spent 38 hours and 33 minutes in the shark- and jellyfish-infested waters crossing an estimated 123 miles in a new world distance record for unassisted, open water swimming. She has become the first person to swim between Isla Mujeres, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, and Cuba's westernmost tip.
Breathless and barely able to carry her own weight, Maroney had to be helped out of the water by her brothers, and she winced in pain at the jellyfish stings which a special Lycra swimsuit had failed to keep out.
Susie's remarkable swim between Mexico and Cuba so impressed President Fidel Castro that he invited her and her family to a sumptuous meal in Revolution Palace.
``I have always admired him. I expected to be in awe, and I was,'' said Maroney. The meeting with Castro, following close on her record-breaking Mexico to Cuba swim earlier this week, was the fulfilment of another dream for Maroney.
``He is just so kind, and in the middle of the conversation, I started crying, when he offered to pay all my expenses here in Cuba,'' she added in an interview from her Havana hotel.
The President, himself an avid swimmer, told Susie he had done an eight-hour marathon on his 53rd birthday. He even suggested ways of improving the shark protection cage in which she swims.
Although aware of her past swims, it is understood Castro was particularly impressed with Susie's latest effort because she took a similar course to the one he took in a guerilla raid in December 1956.
In the tiny boat Granma, Castro led a group of 82 loyalists including his brother Raul and Ernesto "Che" Guevara as they sailed from Mexico and landed on a beach not far from where Susie made her landfall.
Aussie docks battle plan unveiled
Melbourne: The Australian Liberal government was rocked on Thursday by revelations that the Howard Federal Cabinet devised a secret master plan last July involving the mass sacking and replacement of union workers on the waterfront with non-union labor.
The Opposition said the document showed the Government was involved for more than 12 months in the conspiracy - subsequently implemented on 7 April this year - to sack the entire unionised workforce employed by Patrick. The Opposition said the document contradicted comments by Mr Reith on 8 May this year when he said: "The fact of the matter is we were not aware of any decision taken by Mr Corrigan to replace his workforce . . ."
The document, dated 7 July 1997, was signed by the then Minister of Transport, John Sharp, and the Minister for Workplace Relations, Peter Reith. It recommended that the Government take an activist role in assisting stevedores who wanted to use an industrial dispute to dismiss their union workforce.
"The Government's role will be to "set the scene', to facilitate changes that the stevedore(s) and others wish to make and to give them the political and regulatory tools to get their businesses working again as quickly as possible in the event of industrial action."
The document, marked "Cabinet-in-confidence", set out action to be taken by the Government to assist the companies, including the introduction of foreign labor and tugs, the approval of visas and accommodation for the foreign employees, and financial support for the companies.
The Cabinet document outlines a strategy to begin and win the ultimate showdown on the waterfront. Despite denials, the secret papers paint John Howard as the general, assisted by loyal lieutenants Mr Sharp and Mr Reith, with Federal Cabinet as the war room.
The paper confirms the Federal Government's absolute determination to rid the waterfront of a union workforce. But more starkly, it reveals a Government ready to orchestrate a national waterfront strike to achieve its aims.
Mr Reith and Mr Sharp, who prepared the paper, recognise the power of waterfront unions to stop a port by halting its services. They suggest dodging these tactics by the chartering of overseas tugs and the employment of foreign labor. "This will involve immigration, professional certification, certification of foreign tugs, accommodation and many other details," they say.
Money will be needed. "Some elements of the strategy may involve significant public expenditure. The capacity to authorise such expenditure needs to be sorted out before the dispute, enabling the necessary action to be taken quickly and decisively."