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Archive for March, 2013

Japan seeks to improve its birthrate

March. 20, 2013

TOKYO, March 20 (UPI) — Japan’s government will embark on a program to boost the country’s birthrate by encouraging citizens to get married and have children, a government source said.

The source told The Yomiuri Shimbun that an expert task force will be established next week to come up with a set of concrete measures by May to combat the country’s declining birthrate.

Masako Mori, state minister for birthrate measures, will head the task force comprised of scholars, doctors, heads of local government and corporate managers.

Three bills that center on improving child care services and preschool education in Japan were passed into law last year.

The government calculates that establishing better conditions for childbirth and marriage can boost Japan’s fertility rate from 1.39 children per woman to 1.75.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/03/20/Japan-seeks-to-improve-its-birthrate/UPI-48031363789297/.

Chinese Farmers Fight Land Grabs in Two Provinces

By Tang Ming

March 23, 2013

Villagers in the provinces of Hubei and Yunnan have been resisting land grabs by local governments in recent days.

On March 18, villagers at Jingtoushan Farm in Hubei’s Yangxin County demonstrated against local officials for subletting without consent more than 1,000 acres of their farmland to a company in Fujian Province.

Numerous police officers and unidentified individuals arrived at the village, beat the protesters, and let off tear gas. They forced the villagers to sign an agreement to turn over the land, and arrested more than a dozen people. The distraught villagers stood in front of the police cars to prevent them from leaving.

A netizen identifying herself as a pregnant villager posted the message to Weibo: “Please save us. The government used threats and deception to force every family to sign, and in the afternoon they even used tear gas, and hired thugs to attack us. They arrested over a dozen people, including women.”

The next day, the villagers elected one representative per household to petition in Huangshi City, where almost 100 people knelt in front of the town hall in the rain until the authorities promised to investigate the matter.

A similar situation occurred in the Dali Prefecture, Yunnan Province, on March 20, where the Yunlong City government forcibly expropriated farmland in Shijin Village, Jianao Town.

The Yunlong County deputy magistrate led nearly 20 vehicles to the site, and a villager’s ribs were broken during the violent scene that followed, incensing the locals, who shouted, “Bury the magistrate alive.” The villagers managed to intercept 11 of the vehicles, including police cars, before the magistrate fled.

The authorities told media afterwards that their vehicles had been left at the scene, but denied that any villagers were injured.

A resident told The Epoch Times that the local government had expropriated the land of the Shijin villagers for silver and copper mining. The villagers thought there would be too much pollution, but the government took the land anyway.

Source: The Epoch Times.

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/china-news/chinese-farmers-fight-land-grabs-in-two-provinces-367820.html.

Shanghai Petitioners Stage Protest Over Illegal Detentions

By Gu Qing’er

March 21, 2013

About 2,000 petitioners gathered in Shanghai on Wednesday, March 20, to protest against communist authorities, who they said had locked up a large number of petitioners in Beijing during China’s recent annual “Two Meetings.”

Every Wednesday, the Shanghai municipal government building at No. 200 Renmin Boulevard is crowded with petitioners. Many have filed requests for years, but without response. They spend their time recounting the injustices they have suffered under what they call the tyranny of the Chinese regime.

Shanghai petitioner Mr. Zhang told The Epoch Times that the police were closely watching the protesters, who were shouting slogans like “Down with corruption” and “Remove the corrupt officials.”

“There were about 100 police officers on site, with many other plainclothes police and about 10 police cars,” he said. “At about 11 a.m., police started moving in, but the protesters refused to leave. When police began arresting people, everybody started shouting.”

During the “Two Meetings,” many Shanghai petitioners traveled to Beijing seeking redress for grievances and injustices, but instead of being heard, they were detained by the authorities, Mr. Zhang said.

“The number of detainees was the largest ever,” he said. “Based on incomplete statistics, there were about 115 whose names we knew. Some of those people still have not been released as of today.”

According to an article written by a Shanghai petitioner, officials from the State Bureau for Letters and Calls revealed that over 10,000 petitioners made their pleas at the Bureau on March 5, a record number.

Source: The Epoch Times.

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/china-news/shanghai-petitioners-stage-protest-over-illegal-detentions-366788.html.

Cyprus would do better to leave the euro

By PETER MORICI, UPI Outside View Commentator

March. 25, 2013

COLLEGE PARK, Md., March 25 (UPI) — Cyprus would be better off to leave the euro than accept the terms of the bailout imposed by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Until recently, Cyprus was a prosperous island economy thriving through strong tourism, shipping and maritime related activities and a significant international financial sector.

Its major banks have branches in Russia, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom and other overseas locations and have attracted large offshore deposits. Cyprus has gained great popularity as a portal for Western investment into Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, China and India.

Much like New York, London and other big-city European banks, the Cypriot banking sector attracted deposits much larger than it could productively use lending in its local economy and invested in other financial instruments — Cypriot banks invested heavily in Greek sovereign debt.

The 2012 Greek government bailout engineered by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank imposed losses greater than 50 percent on foreign bondholders — among those, Cypriot banks. Hence, the Troika, which is imposing severe conditions in exchange for aid to bailout Cypriot banks, bears substantial responsibility for the present sad state of their balance sheets.

During the recent U.S. financial crisis, the FDIC was adequate to restructure and secure deposits at smaller banks; however, the Federal Reserve printed hundreds of billions of dollars to purchase and work out souring bonds held by larger banks and the Treasury borrowed similar sums to inject new capital into those banks. More importantly, depositors — large or small — didn’t lose any money during or after the U.S. crisis.

The European Central Bank lacks the tools to participate in such bank workouts and the European Union lacks the borrowing authority of the U.S. Treasury — and the taxing powers to back up bonds. Hence, banks in Cyprus, just like those in Ireland and Spain in their banking crisis, lack a lender of last resort to keep them afloat while they restructure and work off losses through new, sounder business activities.

In the United States stockholders lost equity when banks went sour but it kept the banks open and depositors kept their money. The Troika, in exchange for $10 billion in aid, will likely impose losses of at least 20 percent on large depositors and require Cyprus to slash the size of its banking sector, relative to gross domestic product, to the average for the European Union as a whole.

If such a condition were imposed on New York, its economy would collapse and the Big Apple would suffer massive unemployment and huge population losses, as workers sought employment opportunities elsewhere.

Cypriots lack that option — employment opportunities in depressed Greece are quite limited — and most Cypriots lack the language skills to find jobs reasonably comparable to their current situations in other European countries. Instead, unemployment will rocket, GDP and tax revenues will plunge and eurozone rules limiting budget deficits will force Cyprus to impose severe austerity measures, further exacerbating the downward spiral.

Cyprus could turn down aid from the European Union, IMF and ECB, take its large banks through bankruptcy and withdraw from the euro altogether. That would also impose big losses on depositors and equally catastrophic consequences for confidence in the single currency. However, its comparative advantage as a portal into Eastern Europe and Asia would remain.

Taking its largest financial institutions through bankruptcy and establishing a local currency will be no cake walk but the austerity measures — higher taxes, restraints on government spending and so forth — that come along with EU aid would likely throw Cyprus into the same downward spiral as Greece and Spain.

Iceland is also a financial center but having its own currency, recovered rather quickly from a similar financial crisis. Cyprus, a similar island nation with substantial economic assets, would likely find it better to just go it alone, too.

With that, Greece, Spain and other could then see the wisdom of following Cyprus out of the euro, spelling the eventual end for the sham that is the European currency.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Analysis/Outside-View/2013/03/25/Outside-View-Cyprus-would-do-better-to-leave-the-euro/UPI-88431364216756/.

Salmond sets independence vote date

March. 22, 2013

EDINBURGH, Scotland, March 22 (UPI) — A referendum vote on Scottish independence will be held Sept. 18, 2014, First Minister Alex Salmond said Thursday.

Salmond introduced the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, The Scotsman reported. He called the bill “the most important legislation to have been introduced since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened — not in itself, but what it enables Scotland to achieve with the powers of an independent country.”

As set down in the bill, voters will have to answer one simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The government is expected to release a white paper in about six months detailing the process that would take place if voters approve independence. Polls so far have suggested a majority of Scots do not want to cut ties completely with Britain.

The vote is timed to take place after a re-enactment to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a historic Scottish victory over the English and before the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles golf course.

Scotland has been politically joined to England for more than 300 years.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2013/03/22/Salmond-sets-independence-vote-date/UPI-84381363931762/.

Bulgarian anger over living standards lifts nationalist party

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA | Tue Mar 19

(Reuters) – Bulgarian nationalist party Attack is gaining support among voters with pledges to nationalize companies and raise wages while blaming foreigners for unsatisfying living standards, its leader told Reuters on Tuesday.

Attack party leader Volen Siderov blamed the “colonial” West for low wages and high prices in Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007 and has committed to budget restrictions and a currency peg in an effort to swap its lev for the single European currency used by 17 other EU member nations.

“I want to underline the negative role of the West, which through all these years of colonizing was actually pushing things in that direction – low incomes, cheap labor because foreigners benefit from it,” Siderov said in an interview.

Attack’s growing popularity, now about 5 percent, is raising questions over the political future of the poorest EU member ahead of a May 12 election where grudging support for Bulgaria’s main parties looks likely to end in a hung parliament.

Public anger at consumer prices charged by energy monopolies led to widespread protests last month over Bulgaria’s low standard of living and forced the resignation of the center-right cabinet headed by Boiko Borisov.

“Protesters said: ‘Let’s get Bulgaria back, let’s get our property back’ and this is our slogan I have here on my badge,” said the 57-year-old Siderov, whose party also has an anti-Roma and anti-Turkish agenda.

In a powerful demonstration of public despair over Bulgarian living standards which stand at less than half the EU average, a 59-year-old man set himself on fire in protest on Monday in the western town of Bobovdol. He was the fifth man to set himself on fire and remains in critical condition.

Bulgaria’s two leading political parties, Borisov’s GERB and the Socialists each have the support of about 20 percent of voters and there appear few likely combinations for a coalition after the election.

Both GERB and the fifth-largest party, the pro-business Bulgaria for the Citizens, have indicated they will not work with any other group and Attack’s surge in popularity to five percent from one percent after the protests has complicated the picture.

The most likely coalition combination would be the Socialists and an ethnic Turkish party, but it is unlikely they could command a majority on their own.

While Siderov’s party is unlikely to have a major say over policy, its rising popularity in the country of 7.3 million may alarm investors, given Bulgaria needs to keep a tight rein on fiscal policy to hang onto its euro zone aspirations.

Attack informally supported Borisov’s government, but is now pushing an agenda which GERB cannot support.

“Siderov is not a welcome coalition partner, as fierce people easily forget their pledges,” said Rumiana Kolarova, a political analyst at Sofia University. “The bigger support for him, the bigger the uncertainty.

Attack wants to nationalize energy distributors, raise taxes against the rich and revoke concessions for gold and water granted to foreign companies, which Siderov says boost profits by underpaying their Bulgarian staff.

Seeking to quell public anger, the energy regulator has cut power prices by 7 percent and has begun a process to revoke the license of Czech CEZ, which provides electricity to 1.7 million clients in western Bulgaria.

Other distributors include Czech Energo-Pro and Austria’s EVN, which said on Tuesday it would take Bulgaria to court if it fails to reach an agreement over electricity costs.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/19/us-bulgaria-government-nationalists-idUSBRE92I0RV20130319.

Space crew returns to Earth from ISS

Arkalyk, Kazakhstan (AFP)

March 16, 2013

Three astronauts returned safely to Earth from the International Space Station early Saturday, aboard a Russian capsule which landed on the freezing Kazakhstan steppe, mission control said.

“There is landing!” flashed a Russian mission control center message transmitted by NASA. Rescue teams rushed to recover the capsule carrying NASA US astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin.

“The crew felt normal through the descent and landing, their mood is good,” Russian agencies quoted the Russian mission control official commentator as saying.

It was the first space mission for the Russian cosmonauts, and the second for astronaut Ford, who was captain of the crew. They arrived at the space station in October.

Russian space agency Roscosmos confirmed the landing time as 0305 GMT. “The landing was completed as planned,” it said in a statement. “The crew is feeling good. In the coming hours, they will be transported to a permanent location for post-flight rehabilitation.”

Saturday’s landing had been delayed by a day due to poor weather conditions, but rescue helicopters still had to contend with thick ground fog which descended on the landing area and drastically reduced visibility.

The spherical Soyuz vessel landed upright and four workers were shown prying the hatch open to extract the three men. They pulled the crew members out of the capsule and helped them down a special slide.

Russian cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin pumped his fists as he sat on the edge of the capsule. The smiling men were then bundled up by the Russian rescue workers and sat recovering in special chairs.

They were rushed into a helicopter within minutes of arrival to escape the subzero temperatures, as no medical tent was brought to the location by the skeleton evacuation crew that braved nearly zero visibility, the NASA commentator said in footage broadcast online by NASA-TV.

NASA later uploaded a photo of the trio giving a collective thumbs-up at Kazakhstan’s Kustanay airport, near Russia’s border. Ford was holding an apparent departure gift on his lap: a traditional Russian nesting doll painted as an astronaut.

“The crew that landed today, they have an aura of a united, friendly team,” said Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin in a televised press conference. “I think they have a great future in space.”

The crew encountered no problems during their 143 days in space, where they conducted 34 scientific experiments, he added. “What will this crew be remembered by? That everything went as planned during their flight,” he said.

The Soyuz TMA-06M Russian spacecraft had separated from the ISS on schedule and entered the earth atmosphere at about 0240 GMT.

“Just closed the hatch on the departing crew. The echo rang through the Station in many ways, we are now 3 onboard this huge ship. So cool,” tweeted Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who is now captain of the remaining ISS crew members, NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.

The current team will remain in space until May. They expect to be joined by Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy, who will be sent into space later this month.

Since 2009 there have been teams of six astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the space station, whose capacity was previously limited to only three people.

Soyuz spacecraft, used since 1967, are currently the only way to ferry astronauts to the ISS after the US retired its iconic space shuttle program in 2011.

Russia has suffered several recent setbacks in its space program, notably losing expensive satellites and an unmanned supply ship to the ISS last year, but the manned missions have been flawless.

Source: Space-Travel.

Link: http://www.space-travel.com/reports/Space_crew_returns_to_Earth_from_ISS_999.html.

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