Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BBC News - Cautious welcome for North Korea nuclear freeze

North Korea's pledge to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests, has received a cautious international welcome.
Grab from North Korean TV on 28 December 2011 shows Kim Jong-Un saluting during his father Kim Jong-Il's funeral at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in PyongyangThe suspension comes two months after Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as North Korea's leader
A White House spokesman called it a "positive first step" towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
China's foreign ministry also welcomed the move, while Japan said it could "be seen as progress".
The deal followed talks between US and North Korean diplomats in Beijing last week.
The US has announced 240,000 tonnes of new food aid for Pyongyang in return for the freeze.
North Korea confirmed the suspension in a foreign ministry statement released in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
It said the move "aimed at building confidence for the improvement of relations" between the two countries, and said talks would continue.
The US State Department said Pyongyang had also agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor its reactor in Yongbyon to verify compliance with the measures.
"These are concrete measures that we consider a positive first step toward complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"But obviously they need to be followed up by actions. So, we will pursue this policy area with that approach in mind," he added.
China welcomed "the improvement" in US-North Korea ties. "China is willing to work with relevant parties to continue to push forward the six-party talks process," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said the deal was an important step but warned "concrete action" was needed.
"Our goal remains unchanged: that all nuclear-related facilities will be stopped - that is the complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," he said.
South Korea said the deal reflected close co-operation between Washington and Seoul.
However analysts remain concerned over the possible existence of uranium enrichment facilities other than Yongbyon that have not yet been disclosed, however.
Food needed
The announcement comes two months after Kim Jong-un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
Correspondents say it could pave the way for the resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang, which broke down in 2009.
North Korea agreed in 2005 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and political concessions, as part of a six-nation dialogue process involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
But progress on the deal was stop-start, and talks became deadlocked in 2009.
Contact between the US and North Korea aimed at restarting the talks began in July 2011.
Last week's meeting between US and North Korean officials in Beijing was the third round of talks aimed at exploring how to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.
The food aid will be intended for children and pregnant women, US officials said. North Korea has suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990s, and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.
The US has not sent food aid to North Korea since 2009.

BBC News - Google implements privacy policy despite EU warning

Internet company Google has gone ahead with its new privacy policy despite warnings from the EU that it might violate European law.
People sit on a sofa in front of a Google logoThe new privacy policy is rolling out around the world on 1 March
The change means private data collected by one Google service can be shared with its other platforms including YouTube, Gmail and Blogger.
Google said the new set up will enable it to tailor search results better.
But data regulators in France have cast doubt on the legality of move and have launched a Europe-wide investigation.
Google has merged 60 guidelines for its individual sites into a single policy for all of its services.
France's privacy watchdog CNIL wrote to Google earlier this week, urging for a "pause" in rolling out the revised policy.
"The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services," the regulator wrote.
"They have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing, and its compliance with European data protection legislation."
The regulator said it would send Google questions on the changes by mid-March.
'Strong as ever'
In response, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said he was happy to answer any concerns CNIL had.
"As we've said several times over the past week, while our privacy policies will change on 1st March, our commitment to our privacy principles is as strong as ever," Mr Fleischer wrote in a blog post.
The company rejected the regulator's request to hold off on making the changes. Users are being moved onto the new single policy shortly after midnight on 1 March, local time.
Google's business model - the selling of ads targeted around individual user behaviour - relies on collecting browsing information from its visitors.
Until today, this information was kept apart between services.
This meant a search on, for example, YouTube, would have no significance on what results or advertising you would encounter on another Google site like Gmail.
The new agreement, which users cannot opt out of unless they stop using Google's services, will mean activity on all of the company's sites will be linked.
Many websites and blogs in the technology community have given guidance for users concerned about how their browsing history will be used.
They suggest users can access, and delete, their browsing and search history on the site by logging in to
A similar page for YouTube viewing and search history can also be accessed.
Users can see which of Google services hold data about them by viewing their dashboard.
'Advertiser interests'
In preparation for the policy change, Google displayed prominent messages notifying visitors about the plans. A dedicated section was set up to provide more details.
However, campaign group Big Brother Watch has argued that not enough has been done to ensure people are fully aware of the alterations.
A poll of over 2,000 people conducted by the group in conjunction with YouGov suggested 47% of Google users in the UK were not aware policy changes were taking place.
Only 12% of British Google users, Big Brother Watch said, had read the new agreement.
The group's director Nick Pickles said: "If people don't understand what is happening to their personal information, how can they make an informed choice about using a service?
"Google is putting advertisers' interests before user privacy and should not be rushing ahead before the public understand what the changes will mean."
Google service logosGoogle argued that combining the policies will make it simpler for users

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BBC News - US creates task force to target unfair trade practices

US President Barack Obama has created a new trade task force to investigate and crack down on unfair practices by American trading partners.
Barack ObamaPresident Obama has said US trade partners need to follow international trade rules
The move comes amid concerns that unfair trading practices, especially by China, were harming US businesses.
Policymakers have accused Beijing of keeping its currency artificially low in a bid to help China's exporters.
The International Trade Enforcement Center will aim to ensure US businesses have "a level playing field."
"Robust monitoring and enforcement of US rights under international trade agreements, and enforcement of domestic trade laws, are crucial to expanding exports," the executive order signed by President Obama said.
Growing tensions
Trade relations between the US and China have been under strain in recent years.
While the US economy has slowed, China has witnessed robust growth powered by the success of its manufacturing and export sectors.
However, US policymakers and businesses have accused China of giving an unfair advantage to its exporters by keeping the yuan's value low, a move which makes Chinese goods cheaper to foreign buyers.
At the same time, some sectors such as the solar panel industry have argued that Chinese manufacturers have benefited from government subsidies which helps them keep their costs low.
President Obama said the US was working to ensure that its partners abide by international trade rules.
He said the new unit will "bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to investigate and counter unfair trade practices around the world, including by countries like China."

BBC News - ECB prepares to loan 500bn euros to European banks

The European Central Bank is readying another round of low interest loans for Europe's banks that could top 500bn euros (£423bn, $673bn).
ECB headquartersAnalysts say that cheap loans from the ECB have bought time for many banks
On Wednesday it will hold its second long-term refinancing operation (LTRO), an opportunity for Europe's banks to borrow money at low interest rates.
The first round was carried out on 21 December when banks borrowed 489bn euros.
The programme is credited with restoring confidence in Europe's banks.
"In some cases, time has been bought that will enable banks to work through their difficulties," said Bridget Gandy, in a report by the credit rating agency Fitch.
But Fitch warned that for some smaller banks, it is only the ECB funding that is keeping them afloat.
"For other already low-rated banks, the long-term refinancing operation's life-support is merely stalling their demise."
The second round of loans is expected to be even bigger than the first as some banks have been reluctant to approach the ECB for fear of looking weak.
It is hoped that the funds will make banks stronger and encourage them to loan money to business and consumers.
But analysts question whether that has happened.
In its report, Fitch said: "Use to date has been predominantly to replace existing forms of funding."

Monday, February 27, 2012

CNN News - World Bank warns on China’s future

Hong Kong (CNN) – It’s the stuff of urban myth that if a billion Chinese all jumped off a chair at the same time, the earth would shift off its axis.
Now the World Bank is considering just such a question in the context of China’s breakneck growth: Can a billion Chinese become middle class without disrupting the world, fouling the environment and tearing apart the fabric of their own society?
The World Bank report “China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society,” released on Monday, says China has the potential to become a modern and creative high-income society – but it won’t be easy.

The report outlines six critical reforms China will need to address if it is to reach its goal of becoming a high income society over the next 20 years.
Topping the list is full transition to a market-based economy.
Other findings include: accelerating the pace of innovation; using green growth as a driver for development; expanding health, education and employment opportunities for all; modernizing its domestic fiscal system; seeking mutually beneficial relations with the world.
According to World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick, China faces some stark choices ahead.
“This is a country that because of the one-child policy will grow old, in terms of demographics, before it grows rich,” Zoellick said.
“This is a country that has grown almost 10% for the past 30 years, but what the Chinese have recognized is that the model of that growth – driven by exports and to some degree by investment – has to change.”
Zoellick said the next stage for China would be to build an economy geared to consumer and domestic demand.
Critical to this, the report said, would be reforms to state-owned enterprises, private sector development and increased competition in all sectors.
In the enterprise sector, the banks would need to be commercialized, allowing interest rates to be set by market forces, and its legal and supervisory infrastructure deepened ahead of the internationalization of its financial sector.
In particular, the report identified reforms to its labor market currently regulated by the hukou registers – the system of residency permits that can restrict where a person works.
“China needs to accelerate phased reforms of the hukou system to ensure that by 2030 Chinese workers can move in response to market signals,” the report said.
Globalizing its approach to innovation and using its lead in research and development in renewable energy were also identified as areas where the country could build an international competitive advantage in global sunrise industries.
Expanding social security and reversing inequality were identified as key factors in creating a stable economy.
However, the report said many of the proposed reforms would hinge on strengthening China’s fiscal system, making sure the fiscal system adequately anticipated future budgetary demands at all levels of government.
“You read the stories about problems with land in China,” said Zoellick. “Many of the provincial city governments have to take the land to finance themselves, so there needs to be a revenue system that matches the expenditure level.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

BBC News - G20 finance ministers ask eurozone to boost rescue fund

Eurozone countries need to put more money in their rescue fund before G20 nations can step in to help them, the G20 finance ministers have said.
Euro notes being dispensed at an ATMThe G20 finance ministers have called on eurozone economies to boost the region's rescue fund
They said such a move was "essential" to their decision to provide more resources to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the region.
Earlier this month, eurozone leaders set up a permanent bailout fund of 500bn euro ($673bn; £420bn).
There are concerns the fund may not be able to rescue a deeply indebted state.
"We have to see the colour of the eurozone's money first - and quite frankly, that hasn't happened," the British chancellor George Osborne said.
"Until it does, there's no question of extra IMF money from Britain or probably anyone else."
The German factor
Any move to boost the eurozone rescue fund is likely to put more pressure on the leading eurozone economies, especially Germany.
The eurozone's biggest economy has so far resisted calls to increase the size of the bailout fund and sent mixed signals regarding whether it was prepared to change its stance.
On the eve of the G20 meeting, German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble wrote in an article published in the Mexican newspaper El Universal that he was against such a move.
"Should we increase even more the firewalls? The response is a resounding no," he wrote.
"This would not only not solve the problems of debt and competitiveness that brought the affected countries to their current state of affairs, it would also discourage their governments from carrying out consolidation and reform."
However, after the meeting, Mr Schauble said that eurozone leaders would look into the matter and take a decision as early as next month.
Meanwhile, Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs urged the region's leaders to solve the issue as soon as possible.
"One of the crucial lessons of this crisis has been that... the longer we wait the more costly it tends to get," he said.
'Weak growth'
The eurozone debt crisis has seen growth slowing down in the region's economies.
Italy and the Netherlands both slipped into a recession in the last quarter of 2011. They saw their economies shrink by 0.7% during the three months to the end of December, the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction.
Germany had its first negative quarter since 2009 with a decline of 0.2% in the October to December quarter, compared with the previous three months.
The fear is that if not controlled and solved in time, the region's debt crisis may start to hurt global economic growth.
The eurozone is a key market for Asia exports. As growth slows down in the region, consumer demand is likely to fall and hurt Asia's export-dependent economies.
The G20 finance ministers warned that risks to global economic growth continue to remain high.
"The international economic environment has continued to be characterized by an uneven performance, with weak growth in advanced economies and a stronger, albeit slowing, expansion in emerging markets," the ministers said in a joint statement issued after the meeting.

BBC News - North Korea warning as US and S Korea begin joint drill

US and South Korean forces have begun military exercises on the Korean peninsula amid warnings from Pyongyang that the drills should not go ahead.
Undated image from KCNA news agency shows Kim Jong-un inspecting a military unitKim Jong-un has reportedly threatened retaliation if the drills intrude on North Korean territory
The annual exercises, known as Key Resolve, have brought hundreds of extra US troops into South Korea.
They will be followed later in the week by another set of joint military exercises called Foal Eagle.
North Korea has called the drills an "unpardonable infringement" and threatened to wage "sacred war".
The exercises, it said, go beyond previous ones held on the peninsula and "envisage a pre-emptive attack on North Korea".
North Korea's state media has carried threats of retaliation saying its army would "smash them with a sacred war of its own", the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul reports.
South Korea says the annual exercises with its key ally are defensive. More than 2,000 Americans are taking part, including 800 based outside South Korea.
The US military said in a statement that the North Korean army had been informed of the exercises, which would be monitored by observers from other nations to ensure they did not break the armistice agreement signed at the end of the Korean War.
On Sunday North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un visited front-line military units, including one said to be responsible for an attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in 2010.
Four South Koreans died when North Korea shelled the border island.
According to North Korean state media, Mr Kim pledged a "powerful retaliatory strike" if the US-South Korean exercises intruded on North Korean territory.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

CNN News - EU justice commissioner says she's the boss over data protection

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

(CNN) -- I'm in charge, confirms EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, answering critics of her proposed data protection laws.
Reding says she won't be swayed by businesses lobbying to stop the legislation, adding, "the political boss in Europe -- that's me."
Recent proposals to overhaul data protection rules give individuals' increased control over their own data. She believes that politicians are trying to strike a balance between the rights of individuals to privacy and the right of companies to do their business.
"The new package on data protection is first and foremost to open the market," says Reding. She believes that the current situation, in which the EU's 27 member states have their own, conflicting rules, is damaging to business.
She says: "We have a huge opportunity in Europe, a huge market, 27 member states, 500 million people, and we have barriers in this market because everyone goes for their own rules -- 27 conflicting rules.
"It costs a hell of a lot of money, so I said stop it. We scrap the 27 rules: one continent, one rule, one regulator that saves companies €2.3 billion a year."

BBC News - Google and Facebook in White House web privacy sights

File photo of Google logo 17 January 2008The Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint this week over Google's privacy policy

The White House has called on internet firms to develop stronger privacy protections for consumers.
The move comes amid worries that browsing information is being tracked and given to advertisers.
State attorneys in 36 states recently sent a letter of concern over Google's plan to share personal information across its products.
As part of the announcement, the firms' ad networks said they would support a "Do Not Track" browser option.
The US has advocated since 2010 for "Do Not Track", a one-click option to prevent information gathered while web browsing being shared with third parties.
'Bill of rights'
In a statement, President Barack Obama outlined a "consumer privacy bill of rights".
The White House said internet users should have the right to limit the context in which information was collected, should be allowed to correct information and should have the right to transparency in privacy policies.
Companies like Google and Facebook have signed on to develop guidelines based on the "bill of rights", enforceable by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
"American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online," Mr Obama said.
"As the internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy."
Privacy complaints
Privacy advocates will be involved with the development of the new guidelines, but some remain concerned about the firms' ability to self-regulate.
"The real question is how much influence companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook will have in their inevitable attempt to water down the rules that are implemented and render them essentially meaningless," John Simpson, who works on privacy issues for Consumer Watchdog, told the New York Times.
Marc Rotenburg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the announcement "the clearest articulation of the right to privacy by a US president in history".
However, he told Reuters news agency there were "real concerns about implementation and enforcement".
The FTC has taken previous action against Facebook and Google over privacy complaints, both of which were settled in 2011.
While US legislators have argued that online tracking should be curtailed, little has been done.
Any guidelines developed by US officials in concert with internet firms would be enforceable by the FTC once agreed on, but would not necessarily apply to companies that did not sign on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CNN News - U.S. envoy meets North Korean officials for nuclear talks

(CNN) -- A U.S. envoy is meeting with North Korean officials in Beijing on Thursday to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear program, the first such talks since the death of the longtime leader Kim Jong Il.
Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies is holding talks with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan.
The discussions are the first high-level contact since Kim Jong Il, who had ruled North Korea since 1994, died in December and his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, became the new head of the secretive regime.
"My hope is that we can find a way to move forward with the North," Davies said Wednesday after arriving in Beijing.
Pyongyang has warned South Korea and other countries not to expect any change in its policies under its new leader.
Washington hopes the talks Thursday signal the regime's desire to negotiate with the United States and address international concerns over its nuclear program.
Kim Jong Il's death threw into flux U.S. plans for renewed diplomacy with North Korea, including formal talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program and possible resumption of U.S. food assistance.
The North Korea government was thought to be considering the suspension of its uranium enrichment in exchange for food assistance as part of a deal that was to be announced around the time of Kim Jong Il's death.
Davies said he also plans to raise the issues of nonproliferation, human rights and humanitarian affairs during the talks Thursday.
The U.S. envoy was recently in Russia, where he discussed continuing efforts to get North Korea to disarm.

BBC News - Greek bailout: Protests as MPs consider new law

Protests have taken place outside parliament in Greece, as MPs considered emergency laws after a 130bn-euro (£110bn; $170bn) bailout deal.
Protesters outside the Greek parliament in Athens (22 FEb 2012)Greece has recently seen the worst rioting in years
Rallies were called by the two main unions but the turnout was lower than expected because of the damp weather.
Parliament has a week to approve 3.3bn euros in spending cuts tied to the EU/IMF deal.
In a separate development, credit agency Fitch further downgraded Greece's rating from CCC to C.
Although no vote is expected in parliament until Thursday, key parts of the EU/IMF bailout will be discussed at committee level, including the debt writedown by holders of Greek bonds known as the private sector involvement (PSI).
Another measure being debated is a health bill that would further slash state spending, reports say.
A week ago, Athens saw its worst rioting in years, as MPs passed a series of deeply unpopular austerity measures.
"We're in a constant battle, a constant effort," Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of the ADEDY union said. "We will insist: overturn this policy. We are not bound by any of these agreements."
Under Tuesday's agreement, hammered out after marathon talks in Brussels:
  • Greece will undertake to reduce its debt from 160% of GDP to 120.5% by 2020
  • private holders of Greek debt will take losses of 53.5% on the value of their bonds, with the real loss as much as 70%
  • eurozone experts will permanently monitor Greece's economic management
  • a constitutional change will give priority to debt repayments over the funding of government services
Fitch's decision to downgrade Greece's credit rating still further was a direct result of the bond swap agreement, under which private creditors will sustain enforced losses.
"The exchange, if completed, would constitute a 'distressed debt exchange'," Fitch said in a statement.
Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told President Karolos Papoulias that the outcome of the negotiations in Brussels had been "extremely satisfactory".
Before private talks on Wednesday, he told the president in remarks broadcast by Greek television that "the decisions taken in Brussels and those that remain to be taken in Athens, will create the conditions for growth and the recovery of the Greek economy".
Opinion polls suggest that the two parties in the coalition government, which currently dominate parliament, are facing huge losses at the next election, scheduled for April.
Parties on the far left and far right, which are set to make big gains, are opposed to the bailout deal.
The head of the opposition Communist party has vowed to oppose new cuts.
"We insist on daily struggle to thwart the measures and this struggle cannot be a defensive one," said Aleka Papariga.
Eurozone leaders hailed the deal as a triumph, and said it had saved Greece from going bankrupt.
Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told the BBC's Hardtalk programme that Greece deserved more respect from international analysts and financial markets.
"We have made major sacrifices in Greece," he said.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BBC News - Australia's largest rough pink diamond unearthed

An Australian mining company says it has found a 12.76-carat pink diamond, the largest rough pink diamond found in the country.
Handout picture from Rio Tinto of the Argyle Pink Jubilee diamond Unearthed in Western Australia, the Argyle Pink Jubilee is a rare pink diamond (Image: Rio Tinto)
The rare diamond was found at Rio Tinto's Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia's East Kimberly region.
Estimated to be worth millions, it has been named the Argyle Pink Jubilee, and is being cut and polished in Perth.
It will be sold later this year after being shown around the world, including in New York and Hong Kong.
The process of polishing and cutting, which began in Perth on Tuesday, is expected to take about 10 days. The diamond will then be graded by a team of international experts.
More than 90% of the pink diamonds in the world come from the Argyle mine, a Rio Tinto statement said.
The Argyle Pink Jubilee is a light pink diamond, the company said. It is similar in colour to The Williamson Pink - the diamond found in Tanzania that Queen Elizabeth II received as a wedding gift and which was subsequently set into a brooch for her coronation.
A Rio Tinto spokesperson said that a diamond of this calibre was ''unprecedented''.
''It has taken 26 years of Argyle production to unearth this stone and we may never see one like this again,'' said Argyle Pink Diamonds Manager Josephine Johnson.
In 2010, a rare 24.78-carat "fancy intense pink" diamond was sold for a record-breaking $46 million (£29m), the highest price ever paid for a jewel, to a well-known British dealer at an auction in Geneva.
That diamond had been in a private collection for 60 years.