Contains selective news articles I select

Archive for January, 2016

Official data: Saudi wastes $13.3bn of food each year

Monday, 25 January 2016

Saudi Arabia wastes nearly 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion) of food per year, new data has revealed.

Alriyadh newspaper yesterday reported the Saudi Minister of Agriculture, Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, saying Saudis waste a staggering 49.833 billion riyals of food per year, equivalent to 30 per cent of the local agricultural output and food imports.

Al-Fadhli explained that “Saudis waste nearly 250 kilograms of food per year, the highest in the world.”

He presented a report during a workshop in Riyadh which explained that there are 795 million hungry people around the world, noting that saving “only a quarter of the food wasted annually can provide food for 870 million people, and help eradicate hunger in the world.”

He stressed on the need to enact laws that limit food waste and appealed to the concerned authorities to punish those who deliberately waste food.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23532-official-data-saudi-wastes-133bn-of-food-each-year.

Advertisements

Romania probes hundreds of books written by prisoners

January 25, 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania’s crackdown on corruption and fraud in recent years has created a sudden and unexpected literary boom, as prisoners publish hundreds of non-fiction books on subjects as varied as soccer, real estate, God and gemstones.

It’s quite a feat for inmates with no access to books or the Internet, often without tables in their cells. Reports that one book, of 212 pages, was written in seven hours, has only increased suspicions that the improbable treatises are often ghost-written or plagiarized.

Under Romanian law, prisoners can have their sentences reduced by 30 days for every “scientific work” they publish, subject to a judge’s decision on whether the book merits it. Prisoners pay publishing houses to print their works — though they won’t be found in any bookshop.

The law dates from the communist era and was aimed at imprisoned intellectuals who were not suitable for manual labor. Skilled manual workers are able to work to reduce their sentences. Until recently only a handful of such books were published, but in 2014 that rose to 90 — and in 2015 it spiraled to 340.

Prosecutors are investigating whether rich and well-connected convicts are paying university professors — who are required to approve the subjects of the books — or others to write them for them. A prosecutors’ statement cited the case of the 212-page book written by an unidentified prisoner in under seven hours, as well as a 180-page book written in 12 hours.

Laura Stefan, an analyst at the Expert Forum think tank, which promotes transparency and good governance, says the “scientific works” coming out of Romania’s jails have more to do with the wealth and influence of the inmates than their literary talent.

“What we are seeing … is the result of high-level people ending up in jail. These very powerful people are also rich and they can afford to have high-quality counsel, lawyers who teach them how to use the legislation,” she told The Associated Press.

“The quality of the work is poor, and some are bluntly copied.” Allegations of plagiarism against ministers and high-ranking figures are commonplace in Romania, yet rarely investigated. A university panel in 2012 found that former Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized his 2003 doctoral thesis,

Justice Minister Raluca Pruna has called for the law to be abolished in an emergency ordinance. “I noticed a very large growth (in publications) in a very short space of time,” Pruna told the AP. “It was clear the procedure had not been applied in a strict manner.”

She favors new legislation that would put writing a book on a par with activities such as painting and theater, which would together be taken into consideration when ruling on early release. The books are generally highly specialized or full of photos and short on text and would pass unnoticed were it not for the high-profile authors — including former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, a football club owner and a TV mogul— or the fact they were apparently penned on a prison bed.

Nastase, who published prolifically before he served two prison sentences for corruption, wrote two books while in jail. He declined to be interviewed for this article. However, graphic artist Marina Popovici, one of those sentenced alongside Nastase in 2012 for money-laundering and complicity to abuse of the public interest, praised the law and said it gave well-educated prisoners something productive to do.

“As a person who was active, I wanted to do something so as not to waste my time,” she said, clutching her book, “Precious Colored Gemstones.” She said she was given supervised access to a computer and insisted she wrote the book herself. Freed in 2015, she claims she was wrongly convicted and is appealing at the European Court of Human Rights.

Journalist and former senator Sorin Rosca Stanescu served nine months of a 2½-year sentence he was handed for using privileged information and setting up an organized crime group. He wrote three books on the Romanian press and Romania’s political life and now teaches classes about corruption plaguing the Romanian press. He also insists he wrote his own books.

But it’s hardly surprising that in such difficult conditions — prisoners rely on family and friends to photocopy pages from reference books and don’t have desks in their cells — and with most convicts first-time authors, there are suspicions some prisoners simply hired others to write for them.

Steaua football club owner Gigi Becali recently admitted that he didn’t write the four books that came out under his name on subjects ranging from Mount Athos to “merciful love and redemption.” The former European Parliament lawmaker was sentenced to 3½ years prison in May 2013 for a land exchange deal, kidnapping and match fixing. He did not respond to messages requesting an interview.

Lawmaker Gabriela Anghel, who’s taking Stanescu’s class on media corruption, thinks the law is wrong. “It’s not right to reduce someone’s sentence based on a book they may not have written. They should write, but not get their sentence reduced because of it,” she said.

France’s Hollande views Indian Republic Day parade

January 26, 2016

NEW DELHI (AP) — French President Francois Hollande was wrapping up his three-day visit to India Tuesday by watching an elaborate display of Indian military hardware and marching bands taking part in India’s Republic Day celebrations.

He was joined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top officials for the anniversary of India’s democratic constitution taking force in 1950. On Monday, French and Indian officials signed over a dozen agreements including one on jointly combating terror but stopped short of a final deal on New Delhi’s desire to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets. Both Modi and Hollande said that they hoped that a final agreement would be hammered out soon.

Modi had first announced India’s intention to buy the French combat jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation in Paris in April. Since then official on both sides have been discussing prices, offsets and servicing details.

After viewing the parade, Hollande was expected to attend a reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, India’s sprawling presidential palace. The French leader arrived Sunday in the northern city of Chandigarh, where Modi joined him and lauded France’s decision to invest $1 billion every year in India in various sectors.

Chandigarh was designed in the 1950s by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and is one of three places that France has pledged to help develop as so-called “smart cities” with clean water supplies, efficient sewage disposal and public transportation.

Hollande and French business leaders met with their Indian counterparts to boost bilateral trade, which in 2014 totaled $8.6 billion.

EU ministers consider isolating Greece and its migrants

January 25, 2016

AMSTERDAM (AP) — European Union nations took a step Monday toward isolating Greece amid acrimony over Athens’ failure to stem the flow of migrants at its Mediterranean island borders.

Despite choppy seas and wintry conditions, more than 2,000 people are arriving in Greece daily, according to EU figures. Athens is under pressure to register and keep those coming in. Several EU nations have said that they could isolate Greece by closing off their borders so that incoming refugees would have to remain there.

The member states “gave a clear signal” that if they can’t stop the migrants reaching Greece, they would consider helping Greece’s neighbor Macedonia to better seal its border to slow the movement of migrants into other European countries, said Dutch State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff.

Greek Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas conceded his country was struggling to cope with the flow, but blamed EU member states for failing to provide enough manpower and boats to patrol Aegean Sea islands just a few kilometers (miles) from Turkey’s coast and not honoring pledges to relocate migrants.

Mouzalas told reporters Athens wanted 1,800 officers from the EU border patrol force known as Frontex, but got only 800. Of the 28 coast guard ships requested by Greece, only six have arrived, he added.

Mouzalas called the idea of sending Frontex officers to the Greek-Macedonian border to halt migrants there “illegal” and insisted more Frontex officers should be sent to his country instead. Ministers arriving for the meeting at Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum were met by protesters in two boats, one full of showroom dummies wearing red life vests similar to those worn by migrants crossing from Turkey and another with a large sign saying: “Leaders of Europe, it’s not the polls you should worry about. It’s the history books.”

The meeting comes only days after European Council President Donald Tusk warned that Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as Schengen, could break apart if the migrant strategy isn’t sorted out within two months.

Meanwhile in Brussels, Denmark’s foreign and immigration ministers sought to ease tensions over government plans to seize some of the assets of asylum-seekers to pay for their food and lodging. Under the plan, people would be allowed to keep 1,300 euros ($1,400). Any assets or cash beyond that amount could be taken unless the items hold sentimental value, like wedding rings.

“Those people who can manage by themselves shouldn’t have assistance from the state,” Migration Minister Inger Stoejberg told EU lawmakers. The new plan, which has been criticized by rights and refugee groups as well as migrants themselves, is to be debated in the Danish parliament on Tuesday.

Denmark received 21,300 asylum-seekers, one of the highest rates per capita in the EU, last year, and has introduced tougher border controls until at least early next month. European Commissioner Frans Timmermans told Dutch broadcaster NOS on Monday that 60 percent of migrants entering Europe are “from countries that you can assume they have no right to asylum.” He said such “economic migrants” should be sent home more quickly, to ease pressure.

Lorne Cook contributed from Brussels

EU opens new counterterrorism center

January 25, 2016

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The European Union on Monday launched a new law enforcement center to coordinate the fight against violent extremism, saying Europe faces the most significant terrorist threat in over 10 years.

“There is every reason to expect that IS (the Islamic State organization), IS-inspired terrorists or another religiously inspired terrorist group will undertake a terrorist attack somewhere in Europe again, but particularly in France, intended to cause mass casualties among the civilian population,” Europol, the EU-wide agency for law enforcement cooperation, said in a report. “This is in addition to the threat of lone-actor attacks, which has not diminished.”

The report coincided with the official opening of the European Counter Terrorism Center. Europol director Rob Wainwright said his organization’s new unit in The Hague, Netherlands will be staffed by 40-50 experts in counterterrorism and deal in intelligence-sharing, tracking foreign fighters and sources of illegal financing and firearms, and assisting EU countries in counterterrorism investigations.

Wainwright said over 5,000 EU nationals have been radicalized by fighting with Muslim extremists in Iraq and Syria, and that many have returned home. “The current threat demands a strong and ambitious response from the EU,” said Europol’s chief.

Vietnam Communist Party on track for smooth power transition

January 26, 2016

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party was on track Tuesday for a smooth power transition after settling a power struggle between the party chief and the pro-business prime minister trying to unseat him.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung effectively withdrew from the contest to become the Communist Party general secretary, clearing the way for his rival to keep the post in what appears to be a compromise to present a united front to the nation, delegates at a party congress said Monday.

The drama began after Dung was excluded from an official list of candidates for positions in the Central Committee that will be elected Tuesday. In an apparently orchestrated move, his supporters then nominated him on Sunday in a last-minute challenge. But according to party rules Dung was required to turn down the nomination since he was not an official candidate.

Dung abided by the party rules and refused the nomination. The congress then formally voted to accept his refusal. Had he wished, Dung could have tried to pull together enough support on the congress floor to have his refusal rejected. In that scenario, he might have won a place in the Central Committee, and then would have been in contention for party general secretary.

The path is now clear for Nguyen Phu Trong to stay as general secretary, the de facto top position in Vietnam’s collective leadership. The delegates were presented with 220 candidates late Monday, of whom 180 were elected to the Central Committee, one of the two pillars of the ruling establishment. The names of the winning candidates were not immediately announced, but Trong is almost certainly one of them.

Later this week, the congress will elect the all-powerful Politburo, which handles the day-to-day governance of Vietnam. It is expected that the Politburo will be expanded from the current 16 members to 18.

Of the Politburo members, one will be chosen general secretary. Three others will be chosen, in respective order of seniority, the prime minister, the president and the chairman of the National Assembly.

Trong had been trying unsuccessfully for years to sideline Dung, and while contests for the top post are not unheard of, they are usually settled well ahead of the party congress, which takes place once every five years to choose new leaders.

But this year the rivalry between Dung and Trong extended into the party congress, which ends Thursday, although regardless of who is in power the fundamental makeup of the government and its policies will not change radically, according to analysts.

Dung has built a reputation for promoting economic reforms and for boldly confronting China’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea. But even though Trong, a stolid party apparatchik with closer leanings toward China, is now set to take the top job, it doesn’t mean the economic reforms will stall or Vietnam will capitulate to Chinese assertiveness in Vietnamese-claimed waters, according to observers.

“Ideologically, there isn’t a yawning gap between Trong and Dung, although most people believe that the pace of economic reform might slow a bit if Trong remains at the helm and Dung is ousted,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asian expert based in Washington, DC.

Dung, who rose through the ranks of the party and held senior positions, is a two-term prime minister. His economic reforms have helped Vietnam attract a flood of foreign investment and helped triple the per capita GDP to $2,100 over the past 10 years.

Trong’s camp accuses Dung of economic mismanagement, including the spectacular collapse of state-owned shipping company Vinashin; failing to control massive public debt; allowing corruption; and not dealing adequately with the non-preforming loans of state-owned banks.

Vietnam is one of the last remaining communist nations in the world, with a party membership of 4.5 million out of its 93 million people. But like its ideological ally China, the government believes in a quasi-free market economy alongside strictly controlled politics and society.

Vietnam PM withdraws from contest for Communist Party chief

January 25, 2016

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam’s pro-business prime minister has effectively withdrawn from a contest to become the Communist Party chief, clearing the way for his rival to keep the post in what appears to be a compromise to present a united front to the nation, delegates at a party congress said Monday.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had mounted a last-minute challenge during the congress after being excluded from an official list of candidates for positions in a key party panel. Had he continued his challenge, he could have become part of the Central Committee, and subsequently could have been in contention for party general secretary.

The path is now clear for Nguyen Phu Trong to stay as general secretary, the de facto top position in Vietnam’s collective leadership. Several delegates at the congress said Dung decided on Sunday to abide by party rules that obliged him to refuse the nomination for a Central Committee slot proposed by his supporters. The congress then voted on Monday to accept his refusal, completing a formality. The Central Committee, one of two pillars of the ruling establishment, will be chosen Tuesday.

Trong has been trying unsuccessfully for years to sideline Dung, and while contests for the top post are not unheard of, they are usually settled well before the party congress, which takes place once every five years to choose new leaders.

This year, the rivalry between Dung and Trong has gone down to the wire in the party congress, which began last Thursday and ends this Thursday. But regardless of who is in power the fundamental makeup of the government and its policies will not change radically, according to analysts.

Dung has built a reputation for promoting economic reforms, and being bold enough to confront China’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea. But even though Trong, a stolid party apparatchik with closer leanings toward China, is now set to take the top job, it doesn’t mean the economic reforms will stall or Vietnam will capitulate to Chinese assertiveness in Vietnamese-claimed waters, according to observers.

“Ideologically, there isn’t a yawning gap between Trong and Dung, although most people believe that the pace of economic reform might slow a bit if Trong remains at the helm and Dung is ousted,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asian expert based in Washington, DC.

Dung, who rose through the ranks of the party and held senior positions, is a two-term prime minister. His economic reforms have helped Vietnam attract a flood of foreign investment and helped triple the per capita GDP to $2,100 over the past 10 years.

Trong’s camp accuses Dung of economic mismanagement, including the spectacular collapse of state-owned shipping company Vinashin; failing to control massive public debt; allowing corruption; and not dealing adequately with the non-preforming loans of state-owned banks.

On Tuesday, the delegates will be presented with 222 candidates in an election for the 180-member Central Committee. After that, they will elect at least 16 members of the all-powerful Politburo, which handles the day-to-day governance of Vietnam. It is possible that the Politburo will be expanded to 18 members this year.

Of the Politburo members, one will be chosen general secretary. Three others will be chosen, in respective order of seniority, the prime minister, the president and the chairman of the National Assembly.

Vietnam is one of the last remaining communist nations in the world, with a party membership of 4.5 million out of its 93 million people. But like its ideological ally China, the government believes in a quasi-free market economy alongside strictly controlled politics and society.

Tag Cloud