ROUND-UP OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS 2008

NEWS FROM COUNTRIES
Australian territory just got bigger: Australia’s territory has expanded by an area five times the size of France after the UN agreed to its jurisdiction over a massive amount of seabed. The UN decision to extend the country’s borders south, west and east to include a further 2.5 million square kilometres could potentially provide a bonanza in underwater oil and gas reserves.

Labour sweeps to power in Australia: Australia’s Labour Party swept into power at national elections on November 23, 2007. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard conceded defeat in the elections, clearing the way for centre-left Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd to take over as the Prime Minister. Rudd presented himself as a new generation leader, promising to pull Australian combat troops out of Iraq and sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, further isolating Washington on both issues. His message of new leadership attracted a swing of more than 5% across the nation, locking in only the sixth change of government since World War II. The election was fought mainly on domestic issues, with

Labour cashing in on anger at workplace laws and rising interest rates which put home owners under financial pressure at a time when Australia’s economy is booming.

Bhutan—First National Council elected: On January 2, 2008, Bhutan received its New Year gift—15 elected representatives to its National Council or Upper House, following the first parliamentary elections as the country is nearing its aim of embracing democracy. More important polls are expected to take place in February and March, 2008, with elections to the Lower House, when newly formed political parties will be able to take part. Most of the elected candidates to the Upper House are fresh faced 20-somethings, at least partly because of rules requiring all candidates to be university graduates.

Historic Polls in Bhutan: Immaculately turned out in traditional dress, the people of Bhutan formed long queues at polling stations on March 24, 2008, to vote in the first Parliamentary elections in the isolated Himalayan kingdom’s history. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), led by former Premier Jigmi Thinley, scored a landslide victory in the first elections in Bhutan. DPT made a virtual clean sweep

bagging 44 out of the total 47 seats in the National Assembly. People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the only other party contesting the polls, managed to get 3 seats. It is headed by Sangay Ngedup, who is a former two-time Prime Minister in the old royal regime.

Bhutan—Youngest king of newest democracy crowned: On November 6, 2008, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the world’s youngest reigning monarch and head of the newest democracy after he was crowned with Bhutan’s Raven Crown at an ornate coronation ceremony. Sounds of giant gongs and Buddhist hymns echoed in the white-walled Golden Throne Room at Tashichhodzong, a fortress that is now the seat of the government, as the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck handed over the crown to his eldest son. Jigme Khesar is the eldest son of the former Bhutanese king, by his third wife Ashi Tishering Yangdon. He has a younger sister and brother, as well as four half-sisters and three half-brothers by his father’s other three wives.

Uighurs rise in protest in China: China has accused Muslims in the nation’s northwest of trying to start a rebellion, following what an exile group said were

peaceful protests against injustices under Chinese rule. The unrest occurred in China’s Muslim majority Xinjiang region in the month of March 2008, after Chinese authorities warned that terrorists based there were planning attacks on the Beijing Olympics and had tried to bomb a Beijing-bound plane. The protests occurred as China was trying to contain unrest on a much larger scale in neighbouring Tibet. Most of the population in Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan and central Asia, are Muslim Turkic-speaking Uighurs, many of whom bridle at what they say has been 60 years of repressive communist Chinese rule.

Unrest in Tibet: Tibet authorities arrested dozens of people involved in a wave of anti-Chinese violence that swept the mountain region in the month of March 2008. China’s response to violence, which it says was orchestrated by the exiled Dalai Lama, sparked international criticism and clouded preparations for the Beijing Olympics. China’s unyielding response to the unrest brought demands for a boycott of the opening ceremony for the August 8-24 Olympic Games from proTibetan independence groups and some politicians.

Cuba President Castro walks into the sunset: Nearly 50 years on, one of the world’s most charismatic leaders, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, on February 19, 2008, announced his retirement as head of State. With the exception of monarchs, his resignation will brought to an end the world’s longest reign in power. His reign saw one of the most traumatic periods of history during which the world came close to nuclear war. Following the disastrous CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the US discovered nuclear-armed missiles on the island which led to a showdown until the Soviet Union agreed to remove them.

Ecuador adopts new Constitution: On October 21, 2008, Ecuador rolled out its new, socialist-leaning Constitution that was overwhelmingly approved by referendum. The new Constitution will usher in a new era of expanded Presidential powers and new elections in February, 2009. Pushed by President Rafael Correa, who is now allowed to run for re-election, the 444-article document, which was passed by a 64-28% margin in the plebiscite, was published in the government’s official bulletin on October 21, making it the law of the land. The new Constitution allows the President to run for two consecutive four-year terms, dissolve Congress and call early elections. Ecuador’s new Constitution

strengthens the government’s hold on the economy of this small nation of 13.9 million people—half of whom live in poverty—which is based chiefly on oil, banana and coffee exports, and money sent home by its emigrants.

Charter of Fundamental rights signed by EU countries: European Union leaders have signed a charter of fundamental rights, as far left and right deputies demanded a referendum on the EU’s new reform treaty that the text will be appended to. The ceremony came on the eve of the signing of the 27-nation bloc’s new treaty of reforms in Lisbon, which will carry a cross-reference to the full text of the charter. The new document will apply to the EU’s institutions and member countries only when they are implementing European laws and does not establish any powers that would allow Brussels to interfere with national legislation. However, the charter will only apply to 25 countries. Britain and Poland have decided to opt out amid concern that the European Court of Justice could use the document to impose certain rights in their countries.

EU lifts ‘Iron Curtain’ with free travel zone: Border controls along the old Iron Curtain from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic ceased to exist from midnight on

December 20, 2007 as most of the European Union’s former communist new members joined the EU’s passport-free travel zone. The entry of nine nations into the EU’s Schengen area means citizens can travel by land or sea between 24 European nations from Portugal to Poland, Iceland to Estonia without facing border checks. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta joined the EU in 2004, but had to wait before gaining access to the frontier-free zone pending reforms to bring standards of their police and border guards in line with EU norms.

Ireland rejects EU reforms: Irish voters have rejected the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, putting plans to overhaul the bloc’s institutions in peril and humiliating Ireland’s political leaders. The Lisbon treaty was itself an effort to resurrect EU reforms that were torpedoed by French and Dutch voters in 2005. This time Ireland was only country to entrust its voters with a referendum. The No vote means a country with less than 1 per cent of the EU’s 490 million population could doom a treaty painstakingly negotiated by all 27 member States. The Lisbon treaty envisages a long-term President of the European Council of EU leaders, a stronger foreign policy chief and a mutual defence pact. Fourteen countries have

already ratified the treaty in their national Parliaments. Opponents say the treaty reduces small countries’ influence and gives Brussels new foreign and defence policy powers that undermine Ireland’s historic neutrality.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert quits: Disgraced Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under public storm on a string of corruption charges, submitted his resignation of President Shimon Peres on September 21, 2008, paving the way for his successor Tzipi Livni, the newly elected leader of the ruling Kadima party, to form a coalition. Olmert’s almost three-year rule was marked by Israel’s inconclusive 2006 war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, a war on its northern frontier that exposed the Jewish State’s vulnerability to rocket attacks, strengthening of Islamist Hamas faction that has taken control of Gaza and dwindling hopes of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Berlusconi is back as Italy’s PM: Italians voted on April 13, 2008, in a parliamentary election that brought conservative media magnate Silvio Berlusconi back to power for the third time to deal with a deep econo-mic and social malaise. Many of Italy’s 47 million voters were gloomy about the prospects for

economic recovery and political stability as they chose their 62nd government since World War-II. With a weak economy and frustration high, Italy has lost ground to the rest of Europe. It is unclear whether Italians voted for Berlusconi out of affection or, as many experts said, as the least bad choice after the nation weathered two years of inaction from the fractured centre-left.

Aso is Prime Minister of Japan: Outspoken nationalist Taro Aso, an advocate of spending and tax cuts to boost the economy, has been elected Japan’s new Prime Minister to take over from Yasuo Fukuda, who quit earlier just as the economy was flirting with recession and faces further damage from turmoil on Wall Street. The new leader must try to revive the world’s second-biggest economy despite the constraints of its huge public debt, although he may have scant time to do so if, as media and pundits predict, he calls an early poll for Parliament’s powerful lower house.

Disputed elections on Kenya lead to violence: Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki won a second five-year term on January 1, 2008, in a disputed election victory that triggered deadly riots by tens of thousands of Opposition supporters. The

ethnic riots triggered by the disputed election resulted in more than 250 people getting killed. The explosion of violence in one of Africa’s most stable democracies and strongest economies shocked the world and left Kenyans aghast as longsimmering tribal rivalries pitched communities against each other.

Kosovo declares independence: Kosovo declared itself a nation on February 18, 2008, mounting a brash and historic bid to become an independent and democratic State, backed by the US and key European allies but bitterly contested by Serbia and Russia. European Union leaders called for unity within the bloc over Kosovo’s independence but Spain, grappling with its own separatist movements, dissented and vowed not to recognize the new State. Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania have indicated they would not recognize an independent Kosovo now because of legal misgivings or concern about restive minorities in their own countries. US President George W. Bush acknowledged that the people of Kosovo are independent though he stopped short of formal recognition of the territory’s independence.

Malaysia—Badawi takes oath, despite poll setback: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has been sworn in for a second term, winning the backing of his ruling coalition despite unprecedented losses in elections. Barisan National coalition lost its crucial two-thirds Parliamentary majority and four States to the opposition. Voters punished the government for rising inflation and it’s mishandling of racial tensions. But Badawi rejected calls from predecessor Mahathir Mohamad to step down.

Maldives—First democratic polls: Islanders in the cramped city of Male and scores of far-flung atolls began voting on October 8, 2008, in the first democratic Presidential election in the tiny nation’s history. For many, the vote was seen as a referendum on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest-serving ruler, who had won six previous elections as the only candidate on the ballot. The 30year incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ultimately lost to Mohamed Nasheed, a former political activist he repeatedly threw in jail during years of crusading for democracy on the tropical Indian Ocean archipelago.

Nepal Parliament decides to abolish monarchy: After months of pressure from the former Maoist rebels, the government agreed on December 24, 2007, to abolish the monarchy, a decision that will become effective after 2008 elections for a Constituent Assembly. The Maoists then decided to rejoin the Cabinet they quit in October 2007, ending a deadlock that had stalled the peace deal which ended their decade-long civil war that killed more than 13,000 people. The Bill to amend the Article 159 of the interim Constitution states that “Nepal shall be a federal democratic republic State. However, the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly (CA) shall enforce the decision. Besides, the amendment proposal in the Bill has further added that a two-third majority in the existing interim Parliament can implement the decision to abolishing monarchy from the country even earlier if the King is found to be involved in creating obstacle in conducting the CA election. The Bill has also delegated all executive power of the King to the Prime Minister and allowed the latter to act as head of the State during the transitional period.

Nepal votes into democracy: Nepal went to the polls on April 10, 2008 to pave the way for a new Constituent Assembly that will make its king a commoner and

write a new Constitution to transform the Himalayan kingdom into a republic. Despite their resounding victory under the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist failed to achieve an absolute majority in the 601-member of Constituent Assembly. They, how-ever, emerged as the largest party.

Nepal Declared a republic: On May 28, 2008, Nepal scripted a new chapter in its turbulent history as the new Constituent Assembly abolished the 240-year-old monarchy and declared the country a “secular, federal democratic republic”. The 601-member Assembly met at the Birendra International Convention Centre. The motion said Nepal would be secular, federal, democratic republic nation and King Gyanendra would be reduced to a common citizen and would lose all the cultural, dministrative and political powers. The motion further said that May 28 would be celebrated as the Republic Day of the nation every year. There would be a President, who would be the head of the State, while the Prime Minister would be the executive head.

Ram Baran Yadav is Nepal’s first President: Doctor-turned-politician Ram Baran Yadav, who is also the general secretary of the Nepali Congress, has become the first President of the republic of Nepal. The re-polling of the Presidential election was held as none of the three candidates could secure 298 votes in the first poll, the magic figure to register victory in the election. However, the Maoist leadership was not happy with the defeat of their candidate. Blaming foreign powers’ intervention and flaying the “unholy” alliance between three major parties that saw their candidate bite the dust in Nepal’s first Presidential election, Maoist chief Prachanda relinquished his claim to Prime Ministership, saying his party would sit in opposition.

Republic of Nepal gets its first Prime Minister: Nepal, the world’s newest republic, was set for more major change after the Maoist leader and former warlord Prachanda took over as the Prime Minister on August 16, 2008 and promised to deliver a left-wing revolution. His accent from rebel to national leader cleared the way for his band of ultra-leftists, who feature on a US terrorist blacklist, to forge ahead with their vow to radically reform the country. After Europe’s capitalist revolution, Napoleon came along. To institutionalize socialism

in Russia, Lenin appeared. In Nepal, to institutionalize the federal democratic republic after 10 years of People’s war and mass popular movement, Prachanda is here.

Benazir Bhutto assassinated: Weeks after miraculously surviving a suicide bomber’s attack in her home city of Karachi, Pakistani Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a terror attack in Rawalpindi near Islamabad on December 27, 2007. Bhutto, 54 was fired upon by a gunman at close range minutes after she finished addressing an election rally. Moments later, a suicide bomber blew himself up. At least 20 others were killed in the attack.

Peaceful voting in Pakistan: If democracy is the best revenge against dictatorship and extremism, Pakistan took a big step in that direction on February 18, 2008. Though the fear of violence kept many people at home, election commission officials and TV channels said 35-40% of the 80 million voters cast their ballots. The elections yielded a divided National Assembly. The ruling PML-Q is out. But new power equations are still evolving. Late Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N have between them won a majority of over 150 seats. Pakistan’s

main alliance of Islamist parties faced heavy losses, five years after winning control of a key province bordering Afghanistan. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance was the third-largest grouping in the previous national Parliament with 50 seats. But they had won just two seats. Residents in the provincial capital Peshawar welcomed the setback for the mullahs with gunfire and street celebrations. A senior government official said the results showed a clear verdict by the people against those who use religion as a tool to gain political clout.

First woman Speaker of Pakistan: Dr Fehmida Mirza of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has created history by becoming first female Speaker of the country. A consensus candidate of the four-party coalition, the PPP, PML-N, ANP and JUI, that has decided to from the government, she was elected Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly by securing 249 votes out of 324, defeating her rival and combined Opposition’s candidate Israr Tareen, who got 70 votes. The Speaker’s election emphatically established the strength of the new coalition in the Assembly, demonstrating support of more than two-third majority required for amending the Constitution and impeachment of the President. Hailing from an influential political family of Sindh, Mirza was earlier elected twice in an open

electoral contest on general seat in 1997 and 2002.

Gilani takes over as Prime Minister of Pakistan: On March 29, 2008, Yousaf Raza Gilani received an unprecedented unanimous vote of confidence in the Parliament and took over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Immediately after becoming the Prime Minister, Gilani announced several steps to restore public confidence in democratic principles and institutions and vowed to establish supremacy of Parliament by referring all vital issues for debate and decisionmaking at that forum. In his acceptance speech, Gilani touched important issues, including provincial autonomy, terrorism, independence of judiciary, media freedom, release of political prisoners, relations with neighbours, Kashmir, austerity, energy shortage, promotion of agriculture and reform in tribal areas.

President Musharraf resigns: On August 18, 2008, under pressure over impending impeachment charges, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf resigned, ending nearly nine years reign that thrived with US backing, but succumbed under impeachment threat following the first free and fair elections he conducted after grabbing power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Musharraf had to cut short his

innings in the face of a humiliating impeachment move, but his tenure was in a state of decline ever since he imposed emergency to pre-empt a judicial ruling on his October 2007 re-election, revoked the measure and quit as army chief under intense international and domestic pressure, entering uncharted waters as a civilian President.

Zardari elected Pak President: On September 6, 2008, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a controversial politician with little experience in governing, was elected President of Pakistan. Describing his victory as another step towards the transition to democracy, Zardari said “I reiterate Parliament is sovereign. This President shall be subservient to the Parliament”.

Medvedev is new President of Russia: Russia’s next President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to uphold Vladimir Putin’s policies after a big election win that critics said was stage-managed to let the outgoing President Putin keep his grip on power. Medvedev, 42, who is the youngest Russian leader since Czar Nicholas II, has asked President Putin to be his Prime Minister. Putin was prevented by term

limits from running for re-election. Many Russians are enjoying the benefits of the biggest economic boom in a generation fuelled largely by oil exports and they see Medvedev as the natural heir to Putin and the best chance of hanging on to their new-found prosperity. Medvedev said his presidency would be a direct continuation of Putin’s eight years in office—a period marked by a concentration of power in the Kremlin and a willingness to stand up to the West on foreign policy.

President Mbeki of SA resigns: Capping a prolonged power struggle within the country’s ruling ANC, South African President Thabo Mbeki announced his resignation on September 22, 2008, but denied the charge of interfering with justice in a corruption case to nail Jacob Zuma, his challenger for the top post. In a nationally televised address, President Mbeki told the nation that he had decided to resign after he was asked to do so by the National Executive Committee of the ruling ANC. In an unemotional and measured tone, he categorically denied that he had interfered in the work of prosecutors. The President said the central approach we adopted has always been to defend the judiciary rather than act in a manner that would have had a negative impact on its work.

Sri Lanka government ends truce with Tigers: The Sri Lankan government, on January 3, 2008, gave formal notice of its intention to withdraw from the 2002 Norwegian-brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with Tamil Tigers to the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, setting the pace for an escalation in violence between the two sides. Attributing the decision to withdraw from the ceasefire to violations of the agreement by LTTE, Cabinet Minister Kehellya Rambukwella said: “The ceasefire must have been violated by the LTTE more than 10,000 times.”

Taiwan—Opposition candidate wins Presidential election: On March 23, 2008, Taiwan’s voters signalled their yes for an economic rapprochement with mainland China, handing Ma Ying-jeou, the candidate of the opposition Nationalist Party, a broad victory in the island’s Presidential elections. Mr Ma pledged to create closer ties with mainland China in hopes of revitalizing Taiwan’s economy, which has lagged its Asian neighbours in the boom of the last few years. Frank Hsieh, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, had also focused on the economy and promised more links with mainland China, but called Mr Ma’s proposals for a common market with China too extreme, arguing they would swamp Taiwan’s market with Chinese produce. Mr Hsieh’s campaign was also

weighed down by his association with the unpopular administration of the strongly pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian, who was prevented by term limits from running again.

Thaksin ally elected as Thai PM: On January 28, 2008, the lawmakers elected Samak Sundaravej, an ally of deposed Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, as the nation’s new Prime Minister, restoring civilian leadership after 16 months of military rule. Samak, a veteran politician in his own right, is widely expected to try to clear the way for Thaksin to return to Thailand. The election of such a close ally cemented a stunning political turnaround for Thaksin, who was toppled by the military in September 2006 and since then has been living in self-imposed exile. Samak won 310 votes, defeating Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party, who won 163 seats. Royalist generals in the military, who led the coup that ousted Thaksin, had spared no effort in trying to crush his political machine. Junta-appointed authorities barred Thaksin from politics, banned his poli-tical party, and froze about two billion dollars worth of his assets.

Barack Obama elected as first black US President: History was made on November 5, 2008 as the United States of America decisively elected its first black President, turning the page on an ugly past of racial pre-judice and opening chapter of hope and change. Barack Obama, a one-term Democratic senator from Illinois, trounced his Republican opponent, John McCain, by capturing key battleground States. Obama rode a wave of voter discontent to a historic White House victory, promising change as the first black US President, but facing enormous challenges from a deep economic crisis and two lingering wars Venezuela—Chavez defeated in referendum: President Hugo Chavez crashed to an unprecedented vote defeat on December 3, 2007 as Venezuelans rejected his bid to run for re-election indefinitely and win new powers to accelerate his socialist revolution in the OPEC nation. In a fiercely contested referendum, voters said No to a draft of reforms that would have scrapped term limits on Chavez’s rule, boosted his powers to expropriate private property and allowed him to censor the media in emergencies. The No camp won with about 51 per cent of the vote.

Mugabe declared winner in one-man Zimbabwe election: Official results on June 29, 2008, confirmed Robert Mugabe overwhelmingly won a new term as Zimbabwe President after a one-man election, widely denounced throughout the world as an illegitimate farce. Mugabe has secured a sixth term as President, in a country he has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980. He had been assured of a landslide victory after Tsvangirai pulled out of Presidential run-off vote, citing rising violence against his supporters. He had won the first round of the election on March 29 with 47.9% of the vote against 43.2% for Mugabe, just short of an outright majority. Defying international and regional calls to postpone the election, Mugabe pushed ahead with the vote anyway, warning against outside interference in his country’s affairs and shrugging off Tsvangirai’s claims of violence.

WORLD ECONOMY
Hungry citizens spell trouble for world leaders: Anger over high food and fuel costs has spawned a rash of violent unrest across the globe since October 2007. From the deserts of Mauritania to steamy Mozambique on Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, people have taken to the streets. There have been tortilla riots in Mexico

and hundreds of people have marched for lower food prices in Indonesia. World food prices are likely to continue their upward rise in the near future due to rising standards of living in countries like China and India, the World Bank has said. Increased use of food crops for biofuels and animal feeds, and increased oil and fertilizer prices are other factors.

India, China downsized in global economic sweepstakes: The World Bank has “downsized” the economies of the two Asian giants by nearly 40% under new metrics, which it says are more reliable and accurate than previous estimates. Prior to the revision, India’s GDP in PP terms was $3.8 trillion in 2005 and had grown to over $4 trillion in 2007. As a result of the revisions, India’s share in global GDP in 2005—which has also been revised downwards from more than $68 trillion in the earlier estimates to just under $55 trillion—came down sharply from 6.2% to 4.3%. This would make India the world’s fifth largest economy in 2005, behind the US (which accounted for 22.5% of the global GDP) China (9.7%), Japan (7.0%) and Germany (4.6%). In the earlier estimates, India was a comfortable fourth, well ahead of Germany and close behind Japan.

India’s food inflation lowest among developing nations: India has been better off in managing inflation compared to several other developing countries in 20072008, even as the government faces public and political anguish over sharp rise in prices. Prices of food articles rose by 5.8 per cent in India, the lowest increase among 15 developing countries for the period ending February 2007-08, a joint report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and Food and Agriculture Organisation has said. Food prices showed the highest increase at 25.6 per cent in Sri Lanka, followed by Kenya at 24.6 per cent and China 23.3 per cent, the report entitled ‘Agriculture outlook 2008’ said.

Pak trails industrial nations by 159 years: Pakistan needs 159 years to catch up with industrialised nations, says a report by the Commission on Growth and Development, an independent body based at the World Bank headquarters in Washington. The report notes that China, which in 2006 had per capita GDP of $6,621, can catch up with industrialised countries in 23 years. India, with per capita GDP of $3,308, can catch up with industrialised nations in 50 years. Among the Muslim nations, Malaysia is the closest to catch up with industrialised nations. It can reach this milestone in 35 years, followed by Iran, which can reach there in

54 years. Egypt needs 118 years. There are about 150 developing countries in the world. The 10 largest among them account for about 70 per cent of developing countries’ GDP, and the 25 largest countries of about 90 per cent. The share of the US, Canada, Japan, and the European Union has been declining since the 1980s—although these economic blocks together still account for 70 per cent of the world’s GDP.

World economy to grow 1.8% in 2008: The world eco-nomy is “teetering on the brink” of a severe downturn and is expected to grow only 1.8% in 2008, the United Nations said in its mid-year economic projections. That’s down from a global growth rate of 3.8% in 2007, and the downturn is expected to continue with only a slightly higher growth of 2.1% in 2009. The mid-year update of the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects 2008 blamed the downturn on further deterioration in the US housing and financial sectors in the first quarter, which is expected to “continue to be a major drag for the world economy extending into 2009”.

World markets shake as two iconic US banks crash: In a stunning reshaping of America’s financial landscape, two venerable Wall Street firms fell from the shock waves of the credit crisis on September 15, 2008. Stocks across the world tumbled in response to the latest fallout. Lehman Brothers filed for federal bankruptcy protection after rescue attempts failed. Bank of America, meanwhile, snapped up Merrill. Ominously, AIG, once the world’s largest insurance company, had to be bailed out by the US government. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the two most influential securities firms and the arteries supplying capital to Wall Street, decided to convert themselves into retail banks. U.S. financial crisis deepened further with 119-year-old banking institution Washington Mutual deciding to file for bankruptcy protection after selling its banking operations to JPMorgan Chase. The financial crisis virus spread to Asia and Europe. Europe’s biggest bank rescue of the global financial crisis to date took shape on September 29, ahead of a US law-maker vote on a $700 billion toxic debt fund as fears that the plan will fail gripped financial markets. Markets pivoted on passage of the US bailout, as investors’ attention turned to signs of a gathering recession. Stocks dropped, with the S&P 500 index closing at its lowest level in almost four years.

ENVIRONMENT
Australia ratifies Kyoto protocol: On December 2, 2007, Australia won an ovation at the start of UN-led climate change talks in Bali by agreeing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, isolating the United States as the only developed nation outside the pact. Soon after an Australian delegate promised immediate action on Kyoto, new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took the oath of office and signed documents to ratify, ending his country’s long-held opposition to the global climate agreement. The United States, as the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, has been feeling the heat from developing nations demanding the rich make stronger commitments to curb emissions. Australia, the world’s top coal exporter and among the world’s highest per capita greenhouse gas polluters, had been criticized for years for refusing to ratify Kyoto.

Biofuels pushing people to poverty: The Bio-fuel policies pursued by the rich countries are pushing millions of people in the developing world into poverty and increasing carbon emission, thereby negating the climate change mitigation programmes, says an Oxfam study. About 30 million people across the world have been dragged into poverty in the last three years because the rich countries are

pursuing their biofuel policies, the report, another Inconvenient Truth, says. Quoting World Bank estimates, the study says the price of food has increased by 83 per cent in the last three years, which is disastrous for the world’s poor people. The lives of about 290 million people are immediately threatened because of the food crises and about 100 million people have already fallen into poverty as a result. Today’s biofuels are not solving the climate or fuel crises but are instead contributing to food insecurity and inflation, hitting poor people the hardest, said Rob Balley, the author of the report. On the climate change front, the report quotes an analysis published in the Science journal stating that carbon emissions from global land use changes due to the US’s corn-ethanol programme will take 167 years of climate mitigation programme to pay back. The report recommends that the richer countries should freeze implementation of future biofuel mandates and dismantle subsidies and tax exemptions to biofuels to save more people from falling into poverty and accelerate the global food crisis.

Global carbon trade rose 80% in 2007: Trade in the world greenhouse gas credits market rose 80% in 2007 as emissions rules became a concern for more companies, according to a carbon analysis group. Total traded volume in the

global market reached 2.7 billion tones of greenhouse emissions reductions in 2007, a 64% jump in the same period. Nearly two-thirds of the global trading volume in 2007 occurred on the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. The other major market was the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism.

Global Warming alarm: Global warming this century could trigger a runaway thaw of Greenland’s ice sheet and other abrupt shifts such as a dieback of the Amazon rainforest, according to a latest report. Scientists have urged governments to be more aware of tipping points in nature, tiny shifts that can bring big and almost always damaging changes such as a melt of arctic summer sea ice or a collapse of the Indian monsoon. Society may be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change, the scientists at British, German and US institutes wrote in a report saying there were many little understood thresholds in nature.

Himalayan tragedy awaits India, China: Shrinking Himalayan glaciers are going to turn Chinese and Indian rivers like the Ganga and the Yangtze into seasonal rivers that dry up in summers and could eventually lead to politically unmanageable

food shortages in the region, a leading environmental scientist has warned. Climate-driven shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies

has been on the environmental community’s radar for some time, but the alarm put out by Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, while invoking a civilization-threatening scenario, is the starkest yet.

Historic breakthrough in Bali: Over 190 countries agreed at the UN-led talks in Bali, Indonesia, on December 15, 2007, to launch negotiations on a new pact to fight global warming after a reversal by the United States allowed a historic breakthrough. The Bali meeting approved a “roadmap” for two years of talks to adopt a new treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2009, widening it to the US and developing nations such as China and India. Under the deal, a successor pact will be agreed on at a meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009.

SAARC adopts action plan on climate change: India and other SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) members have adopted a three-year action plan to combat climate change, pressing the developed countries to establish a special fund to save them from the drastic effects of the phenomena.

The SAARC region is most vulnerable to climate change and thereby seriously affecting our agricultural production, crippling our vital infrastructures, diminishing our natural resources and limiting our development options for the future, said a joint declaration issued at the end of the three-day regional meeting, held at Dhaka. The ministers said the region needed more technology to fight climate change, while developed countries needed to reduce their carbon emissions apart from raising a special fund as suggested after the Bali conference. UN meeting to discuss global warming: Governments from nearly 200 countries launched discussions in Bangkok, on March 31, 2008, on forging a global warming agreement, a process that is expected to be fraught with disagreements over how much to reduce greenhouse gases and which nations should adhere to binding targets. The week-long United Nations climate meeting came on the heels of a historic agreement reached in December to draft a new accord on global warming by 2009.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Russia, US ink civilian N-pact: Russia and the United States have signed a long awaited civilian-nuclear cooperation pact that will allow firms from the world’s

two biggest atomic powers to expand bilateral nuclear trade. The deal will open up the booming US nuclear market and Russia’s vast uranium fields to firms from both countries. Without a deal, cooperation potentially worth billions of dollars was severely limited and required official consent. A 123 agreement is required before countries can cooperate on nuclear materials.

China, Pak ink 11 agreements: On October 15, 2008, during the visit of President Zardari of Pakistan to China, both countries signed 11 agreements covering a range of fields, including energy, infrastructure, agriculture, trade and space technology as they vowed to strengthen their all-weather strategic ties. Both sides agreed to strengthen strategic partnership in all dimensions, reinvigorate the multi-faceted bilateral relations, intensify economic cooperation and foster people-to-people contacts in the coming years. Pakistan said that China will help it build two more nuclear power plants, offsetting Pakistani frustration over a recent nuclear deal between India and the United States. China, a major investor and arms supplier for Pakistan, has already helped it build a nuclear power plant at Chashma, about 125 km southwest of Islamabad. Work on a second nuclear plant is in progress and is expected to be completed in 2011.

France rejoin NATO command after 42 years: President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a major overhaul of the French military, cutting back the armed forces, beefing up intelligence and setting a course for France’s return to NATO command. A leaner, more mobile and high-tech military will allow France to confront new threats, in particular terrorism which poses the greatest danger, Sarkozy said in an address to some 3,000 officers in Paris. Bringing France closer to the United States, Sarkozy confirmed that France will soon return to NATO’s integrated command, which it left in 1966 when Charles de Gaulle rejected US dominance of the alliance.

India Pak attend West Asia meet: Pakistan, along with India, was invited to attend the United States-convened West Asia conference to be held at Annapolis, US, in November 2007-end. India was not thrilled at the invitation to Pakistan, but was satisfied it has finally been called on board for a conference on West Asia, which it calls its extended neighbourhood. New Delhi has always sought a meaningful role in helping to resolve the West Asian crisis, because of its friendly relations with all the major players in the region. But it has never been called upon to offer its expertise, except as a possible role model, to show countries in

the region how to live in harmony amidst diversity.

Indian Ocean security mechanism: In a major initiative to boost maritime security in the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India and 26 other countries have decided to set up an institutionalised mechanism for cooperation among their navies. The forum, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), the brainchild of the Indian Navy, will meet every two years to have regular dialogue and exchange of information for ensuring safety of shipping and maritime resources. The initiative will be discussed by the naval chiefs with their respective governments after which a final charter will be taken up. Pakistan and Iran, who did not send their naval chiefs for the inaugural meeting of IONS, which will have rotational chairmanship and secretariat, were requested to join the inclusive forum at a later stage.

Iranian President makes historic visit to Iraq: On March 2, 2008, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew to Baghdad for the first visit by an Iranian President since the two neighbours’ bitter war in the 1980s and said his trip marked a “new chapter” in relations. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, during his

meeting with Ahmadinejad assured him that Iraq would seek to oust Iranian rebels based in Iraq, a long-time Iranian demand. Ahmadinejad’s trip was as much about symbolism as it was about cementing ties between the neighbours.

Iranian President visits Pakistan, Sri Lanka: All major hurdles in the Iran-PakistanIndia gas pipeline have been resolved and a final agreement would be signed in Tehran soon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during his visit to Islamabad on April 28, 2008. The Iranian President had stopped over briefly in Islamabad on the way to Sri Lanka to meet President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. In Sri Lanka, Ahmadinejad laid the foundation of $450-million Iran-funded Uma Oya Irrigation project in Wellawaya. It is the longest ever hydro tunnel to be built in the country. After completion, the project will add 100 MW of power to the national grid of Sri Lanka.

Korea off axis of evil list: In June 2008, a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis seemed imminent after Pyongyang handed over a long-delayed account of its nuclear activities to the members of the six- party talks that include the United States and China. This development was seen in diplomatic circles as a major

victory for Chinese diplomacy as it was Beijing that provided the necessary assurances and guarantees for Pyongyang to agree to the disclosure of its nuclear facilities after North Korean leaders had rejected every move by the US government. A pleased US President George Bush almost immediately announced that he would be removing North Korea from the US State department list of State sponsors of terrorism within 45 days and lifted US trade sanctions on the impoverished country. But North Korea’s obligations, and the move towards ending its pariah status, are not over with a mere declaration, Bush warned. “To end its isolation, North Korea must dismantle all of its nuclear facilities, give up its separated plutonium, resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities, and end these activities in a way that we can fully verify”, he said.

USA removes N. Korea from terrorism blacklist: On October 21, 2008, the US removed North Korea from its terrorism blacklist in a bid to revive faltering denuclearisation talks in the final months of the Bush administration. The decision was made after North Korea agreed to a series of verification measures of its nuclear facilities. Under the deal, which still has to be formalized by the six parties

dealing with North Korea, experts would have access to all declared nuclear sites and “based on mutual consent” to sites not declared by the North. In addition, the United Nations atomic watchdog body, the IAEA, would play an important role in verifying Pyongyang’s atomic activities. While being taken off the list, North Korea would still be subject to numerous sanctions as a result of its 2006 nuclear test and there is still a long way to go.

Nine nations join hands for maritime security: A new organisation comprising coast guard officers from nine countries, including India, was launched in Maldives on May 19, 2008, to oversee port and maritime security in the Indian Ocean. The South Asia Regional Port Security Cooperative aims at ensuring safety of cargo containers and international seaports from terrorist strikes. The organisation will bring together India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Madagascar, Comoros, Maldives, Mauritius and Oman. It is being facilitated by the US Coastguard’s Far East Command.

Pak back in Commonwealth: Revoking a six-month-long suspension, the Commonwealth has re-admitted Pakistan into its fold, citing the “positive steps”

taken by Islamabad “to fulfil its obligations” consistent with grouping’s fundamental values and principles. This was decided by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which deals with violations of the organisations rules on democracy. It had earlier suspended Pakistan on November 16, 2007, after President Prevez Musharraf had imposed emergency. The grouping urged Pakistan to respect the Commonwealth Latimer House Principles to reinforce the independence of the judiciary and resolve current issues through the parliamentary process, as soon as possible.

Prachanda chooses China over India: Nepal’s new Maoist Prime Minister, Prachanda, decided to break bread with the Chinese leadership at the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, preferring it over meeting the Indian leadership in New Delhi. He became the first Nepalese leader to make Beijing his first stop and not New Delhi. China offered to provide every possible help to Nepal for its stability and development as it accorded a red carpet welcome to Prime Minister Prachanda. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao met separately with him and promised reciprocal cooperation in various fields.

Rivals China, Taiwan signal historic thaw: China and Taiwan signed historic agreements on June 13, 2008, that will see thousands more people travel every day between the two traditional rivals. Both have agreed to establish regular direct flights between China and Taiwan, finally ending time-consuming forced stopovers in Hong Kong. They will also triple the number of mainland visitors allowed to travel to Taiwan each day to 3,000 in what promises to be a major boost for the island’s tourism industry. Trade and travel links between China and Taiwan have been severely restricted since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949. China’s communist rulers have insisted ever since that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary, and their relationship has been one of the world’s most dangerous potential military flashpoints.

SAARC convention put on fast track: Implementation of the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution has now been put on fast track, with representatives from member States reiterating their commitment to fight one of the fastest growing transnational crimes in the world. The regional taskforce set up to implement the convention has resolved to develop standard procedures to operationalise the convention,

signed on January 5, 2000. One of the major requirements for successful implementation of the convention is availability of comprehensive data on trafficking. Right now, no such data is available, but estimates put the number of trafficked women and children in South Asia at 2,00,000, annually. South Asia is particularly vulnerable as it houses two-thirds of the world’s poor, of which twothirds are women who lead 20 to 40 per cent of households.

Tension between Russia and Georgia: Georgia called for a ceasefire on August 10, 2008 after Russian bombers widened an offensive to force back Georgian troops seeking control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. US President George Bush said Russian attacks on Georgia marked a dangerous escalation of the crisis and urged Moscow to halt the bombing. Russia’s military response to the crisis dramatically intensified a long-running stand-off between Russia and the prowestern Georgian leadership that sparked alarm in the West and led to angry exchanges at the United Nations, reminiscent of the Cold War. On August 16, 2008, Russia signed a French-led peace deal to end the conflict in Georgia but said extra security measures were needed before a withdrawal could begin. At the core of the struggle is a vast network of actual and planned pipelines for shipping

Caspian Sea oil to the world market from countries that were once part of the Soviet empire.

US and Poland sign missile shield deal: Poland has agreed that it would host elements of a US global anti-missile system after Washington agreed to boost Poland’s air defences. The move is likely to raise tension between Russia and the West. Russia says the US system poses a threat to its security, despite the US assurances to the contrary. Washington says the interceptors and a radar in the Czech Republic will form part of a global shield protecting the US and its allies from long-range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups such as Al-Qaida. Moscow has threatened to take retaliatory steps against Poland and the Czech Republic for hosting the US system on their territory.

US House adopts sanctions against Myanmar: The US House of Representatives passed a Bill in December 2007, putting a sanction on the import of Myanmar’s gemstones and natural gas to the country in an effort to tighten the noose on military Junta after its lethal crackdown on pro-democracy protests. It has been pointed out that the legislation will take hundreds of millions out of the pockets

of the regime each year.

US rejects new space arms treaty: Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, on February 13, 2008, presented a Russian-Chinese draft treaty banning weapons in space to the UN Conference on Disarmament, an idea that was quickly rejected by the United States. The draft treaty aims to fill gaps in existing law, create conditions for further exploration and use of space, and streng-then general security and arms control. The White House responded to the proposal saying it opposed any treaty that sought “to prohibit or limit access to or use of space.” Instead, the White House favoured “discussions aimed at promoting trans parency and confidence-building measures.”

US, Iraq agree on troop withdrawal: The US has reached an agreement with Iraq to withdraw a part of its forces from the Iraqi cities by 2009 summer as a prelude to a full withdrawal from the country. The draft agreement sets 2011 as the date by which all US troops will leave Iraq. Teams of American and Iraqi negotiators spent months haggling over the deal which will be presented to the Bush administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for

formal approval or rejection. The deal represents a remarkable turnaround from just a few months ago, when talks about timetables and deadlines were routinely dismissed by the Washington.

Venezuela President’s Iran visit: Venezuela’s outspoken President joined with Iran’s leader on November 23, 2007 in boasting that they are united like a single fist in challenging American influence, saying the fall of the dollar is a sign that the US empire is coming down. Making his fourth trip to Tehran in two years, Chavez has built a strong bond with Iranian President Ahmadinejad that has produced a string of business agreements as well as a torrent of rhetoric representing the two countries as an example of how smaller nations can stand up to the US. The leftist leader is a harsh critic of President Bush, while Iran’s Islamic government is in a bitter standoff with Washington over Teheran’s nuclear program.

World faces cyber cold war threat: A cyber cold war waged over the world’s computers threatens to become one of the biggest threats to security in the next decade, according to a report by Internet security com-pany McAfee. About 120 countries are developing ways to use the internet as a weapon to target financial

markets, government computer systems and utilities, says the report. Cybercrime is now a global issue, said Jeff Green, senior Vice-President of McAfee Avert Labs. It has evolved significantly and is no longer just a threat to industry and individuals but increasingly to national security.

SUMMITS
ASEAN Summit: Singapore convened the 13th ASEAN Summit from November 18November 21, 2007. This year’s Summit coincided with a significant milestone in ASEAN’s development, its 40th Anniversary. Singapore also hosted the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit, marking the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-EU relations. The theme of the 13th ASEAN Summit was ‘One ASEAN at the Heart of Dynamic Asia’. In addition, the 13th ASEAN Summit also discussed the related and pressing issues of ‘Energy, Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development’. The Leaders signed the ASEAN Charter, which will transform ASEAN into a more effective and rules-based organisation, as well as pave the way for ASEAN’s closer integration.

ASEM meet: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Beijing on October 23, 2008 for the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) that began on October 24. It was the first time that India was invited to the summit in which the global financial crisis was discussed. Although the ASEM agenda is to promote economic interaction and social development between Asia and Europe, the economic downturn sparked fears that Asia cannot be saved from this trans-national epide-mic. The worst financial crisis in 80 years has forced countries to work together to find ways to help shore up a financial system crippled by banks fearful of lending to each other.

Commonwealth Summit: The three-day summit, held at Kampala, Uganda, ended on November 24, 2007, with members united behind decisive action against Pakistan but too divided to issue the tough statement on climate change that some groups wanted. Combating climate change was high on the Commonwealth agenda at the biennial summit, having not even been a footnote to the final statement at the last meeting on Malta in 2005.

G-8 Summit: On July 8, 2008, leaders of the world’s richest nations opened a summit aimed at battling skyrocketing oil and food prices, as pressure mounted on them to live up to their pledges to help Africa. Leaders gathered in the scheduled spa resort of Tyako in northern Japan for a three-day session, with seven African leaders joining them on the first day to take up the plight of the continent. The G-8 leaders said they remained positive about the long-term resilience of their economies and the prospects for global growth. Emerging markets in particular were still growing strongly. The G-8 also held a customary outreach session with developing nations like India and China.

SAARC Summit, 15th: Nations comprising the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, met at Colombo on August 3-4, 2008, amid tensions between India and Pakistan, the region’s biggest countries, over a series of terrorist bombings in July as also infringement of ceasefire by Pakistan on couple of occasions. During the meet the nations signed a pledge to cooperate in the fight against terrorism in South Asia. The SAARC leaders also signed an agreement to start the SAARC Development Fund to improve roads, ports and other infrastructure in the region. To tackle poverty, Bhutan Prime Minister

Lyonpo Jigme offered to host a development fund in the Himalayan Kingdom. At the end of the multi-level deliberations the leaders said the need of the hour was to tackle reduced availability of food and transform the region to the granary of the world.

Union for the Mediterranean: Forty three nations, home to 800 million people, have joined in a Union for the Mediterranean, a vast though vague body that its boosters hope can nudge this disparate and conflicted swath of the world toward peace and stability. Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian leaders were among those attending an unprecedented gathering on the River Seine in Paris. Coping with age-old enmities involving their peoples and others along the Mediterranean shores will be a central challenge to the new Union. The Union for the Mediterranean is French President Sarkozy’s brainchild.

INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
ISI backing Taliban, US tells Pak: A top Central Intelligence Agency official travelled secretly to Islamabad in July 2008 to confront Pakistan’s most senior officials with new information about ties between country’s powerful spy service,

ISI, and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The CIA emissary presented evidence showing that members of spy service had deepened their ties with some militant groups that were responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including suicide bombing of Indian Embassy in Kabul. The decision to confront Pakistan with what the officials described as a new CIA assessment of the spy service’s activities seemed to be the bluntest American warning to Pakistan since shortly after 9/11 about the ties between spy service and Islamic militants.

Istanbul blasts: More than 17 people were killed in bomb blasts on July 27, 2008 in Istanbul, capital of Turkey. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, the deadliest in Turkey since 2003. Several newspapers said the police was focusing their investigations this time on the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), saying it has used similar explosives. The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by the USA, Turkey and the European Union, has wage a deadly campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey since 1984. The PKK, how-ever, usually does not target civilians.

Pak N-sites vulnerable to terror attacks: A British think-tank specializing on Pakistan’s security issues has said that the chances of Islamabad’s nuclear assets falling into the hands of tribal militants have increased as most of the arsenals are located in the restive north-western parts of the country. The Pakistan Security Research Unit in its report, “The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan”, said Islamabad had in place robust measures but each contained some weaknesses and many were being exacerbated by the present political turbulence in the country.

Terrorists strike in China: On August 4, 2008, separatists fighting for splitting a portion of China attacked a police station in Xinjiang province, 200 metres away from the border armed police division headquarters at Kashi in western China, and killed 16 policemen. The incident vindicated China’s worst Olympic fears about terrorist attacks before and during the 2008 Beijing Games. Terrorists managed to penetrate the high-security system that has been put in place in Xinjiang province, the scene of a separatist movement seeking an independent East Turkmenistan. The terrorists used hand-made bombs and knives.

WORLD TRADE
G-20, G-33 reject new WTO farm text: At the WTO’s informal meeting on agriculture for the Doha Round on May 26, 2008, the G-20 and the G-33 nations politely slammed the revised agriculture text for introducing new and divergent elements. They, along with some other countries, called for revised texts. In its statement, India specifically called for another revision. However, the European Union cautioned against delays. The US Farm Bill, which was passed with majority by the US Congress, after being vetoed by President Bush, was the target of criticism by many countries, who felt it could increase domestic support instead of cutting it.

Thailand moots five-nation rice cartel in Asia: Prime Minister of Thailand Samak Sundaravej has said that his government would try to create a cartel of riceproducing countries in partnership with Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. If successful, a cartel could have far-reaching consequences on the rice market, sustaining prices at their current historic highs and worsening a food crisis that is hurting Asia’s poorest consumers.

World trade growth may slip 1%: The outlook for world trade in 2008 appears bleak, with growth expected to dip to 4.5% from 5.5% in 2007. According to the World Trade Statistics 2008 report compiled by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a sharp economic deceleration in key developed countries is only partly being offset by continuing strong growth in emerging economies like China and India.

WTO talks collapse: The nine-day laborious WTO talks to salvage the Doha Trade Round collapsed on July 29, 2008, after the US was locked in a deadlock with India and China over import rules for farm products. WTO chief Pascal Lamy said the core group of seven nations, including India, USA, EU, China and Brazil, failed to reach a convergence over special safeguard mechanism sought by developing countries against agriculture imports. The seven-year-old trade talks, launched in 2001, got bogged down this time around as India and China demanded lower trigger point for imposing higher duties in case of import surge, sources said.

MISCELLANEOUS
Asia tops list of corporate human rights abuse: Most human rights abuses by corporations occur in Asia, closely followed by Africa, then Latin America, according to a new United Nations report. The report has also highlighted that a group of major supermarkets in Britain had been accused of having benefited from poor working conditions in supply chains in India, Bangladesh and Costa Rica. In a survey of 320 cases of alleged human rights abuses made between February 2005 and December 2007, the UN independent expert on corporations and human rights found that more than one in four cases, or 28%, occurred in Asia and the Pacific. Africa followed with 22%, then Latin America with 18%.

Karadzic extracted to the Hague: Authorities have extradited ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to the Netherlands to face genocide charges before the UN war crimes tribunal. Karadzic, known as the Butcher of Bosnia, is accused by the tribunal of masterminding the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II. He spent nearly 13 years on the run before being arrested in Belgrade. Despite the war crimes allegations, Karadjic is still revered by many as a wartime hero for

helping to create the Bosnian Serb mini-State. S. Asia created 28% global jobs: The International Labour Organisation’s 2008 Global Employment Trends report shows an impressive poverty reduction in South Asia (largely dominated by India). Extreme working poverty (income of less than $1 per day) fell by 20% in a decade (from 53% in 1997 to 33% in 2007), the greatest decrease of any region of the world. However, the proportion of working poor (income of less than US$2 per day) remains high, with eight out of 10 workers, 478 million people, in this category. Only sub-Saharan Africa has a higher proportion. US shoots a space cripple: On February 21, 2008, a US navy missile successfully struck a defunct American spy satellite and probably destroyed a tank carrying 450 kg of toxic fuel in an exercise opposed by Russia and China since it involved the use of Pentagon’s missile defence system. China asked the US to provide details about the exercise so that “relevant countries can take precautions”. A network of land, air, sea and space-based sensors confirmed the interception of the non-functional National Reconnaissance Office satellite, the Pentagon said. The interception was carried out by the USS Lake Erie warship, which fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3, hitting the satellite as it travelled in space.

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