Tuesday, March 08, 2011

View on the News-3/03/2011

World Food Prices Rise to Record on Dairy, Grains, UN Says
World food prices climbed to a record in February on surging dairy, grain and meat costs, the United Nations said. An index of 55 food commodities rose 2.2 percent to 236 points from 230.7 in January, the eighth straight gain, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on its website today.Rising food costs helped to fuel social unrest and riots in North Africa and the Middle East that toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt this year. Prices surged globally as a drought in Russia prompted the country to ban grain exports last year and adverse weather threatened crops in nations from wheat exporter Canada to soybean producer Brazil. “Unexpected oil-price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets,” David Hallam, the Rome-based FAO’s director of trade and markets, said in a statement. “This adds even more uncertainty concerning the price outlook.” Global food prices probably will rise in the first half of this century because of an expanding population and higher incomes, slower crop-yield growth and the effect of climate change, Ross Garnaut, the Australian government’s climate-change adviser, said yesterday.

Libya: West mulls military intervention to remove their puppet from power
US officials have said that a no-fly zone is one option to push Muammar Gaddafi from power and prevent bloodshed in Libya, but it’s also dangerous for both sides. Foreign experts say that instituting one would raise geopolitical stakes, as no matter who crosses into the airspace, they would be shot at. A United National Security Council member told CNN that there hasn’t been a formal discussion on the no-fly zone option, but there have been informal talks outside of meetings. NATO is conducting an informal plan for such a case, they noted. If the council finds evidence that Gaddafi is using air forces to bomb or kill civilians, fly in mercenaries or hinder humanitarian assistance, they will be prepared to consider the option, the source added. On Wednesday, Robert Gates, the US secretary of defense, warned Congress than a no-fly zone will have to start with an attack on the country’s anti-aircraft capability. He and joint chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said on Tuesday that they don’t have any confirmation of reports that aircraft controlled by Gaddafi are firing at citizens. However, journalists have reported seeing aircraft drop bombs on civilians. US officials say all diplomatic and military options are open, but Mullen and Gates say that pursuing a forced grounding of aircraft in Libya is risky and complicated. Another diplomat also said that implementing a no-fly zone would be very difficult too, as they would need hundreds of planes and airports. This is an act of war, the insider added, and there would be consequences.

GCC rulers advocate plan to buy off their citizens
On Wednesday Bloomberg reported that states of the Gulf Cooperation Council were working on starting a Marshall-style plan to support Bahrain and Oman, which are facing instability, Al-Qabas reported, without saying where it got the information. The six members of the GCC are currently holding diplomatic talks on the matter, which may lead to a summit, the newspaper said. The plan aims to raise Omanis’ and Bahrainis’ living conditions, improve their economic and social conditions, create job opportunities for the unemployed and provide homes for the homeless, according to Al-Qabas.

Iran contacting Arab opposition movements: Clinton
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Iran is directly or indirectly communicating with opposition groups in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen in a bid to shape events there. It was the first time that Clinton detailed alleged efforts by Iran to meddle in the three-month wave of Arab revolts that has toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt, convulsed Libya and shaken Yemen, Bahrain and Oman."They are doing everything they can to influence the outcomes in these places," Clinton told the Senate Appropriations Committee."They are using Hezbollah... to communicate with counterparts... in (the Palestinian movement) Hamas who then in turn communicate with counterparts in Egypt," the chief US diplomat said."We know that they are reaching out to the opposition in Bahrain. We know that the Iranians are very much involved in the opposition movements in Yemen," she said. "So either directly or through proxies, they are constantly trying to influence events. They have a very active diplomatic foreign policy outreach," she added. In a bid to counteract the Iranian moves, she said, the United States is making diplomatic and other contacts of its own with opposition groups across the Middle East and North Africa. Clinton said it was a delicate task."Most people want us to be helpful but they don't want us to be taking a leading role, and so how we deliver on the aid they're seeking without looking as though we're trying to take over their revolution is our challenge," she said. "But it is also a challenge for the Iranians. They don't have a lot of friends, but they're trying to curry more friends," Clinton said.

UK MPs doubtful about success in Afghanistan
The military surge in Afghanistan is in danger of derailing moves to ensure a peaceful political solution to the crisis, an all-party group of MPs warns in a critical report published today. In a sign that the political consensus in Britain in favour of the US-led operation in Afghanistan is breaking down, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee question David Cameron's approach and express fears that the 10-year military campaign could end in failure. The MPs say it must be accompanied by a "political surge" in which the US holds talks with Taliban leaders. They also cast doubt on the official justification for the presence of British troops in the country, saying it is not clear they help to prevent terrorist attacks in the UK because al-Qa'ida has been weakened. The report could mark a turning point in the debate on Afghanistan. Although a growing number of UK politicians question in private whether the war is winnable, most have been reluctant to go public because they do not want to undermine British forces. The report will make uncomfortable reading for Mr Cameron. The MPs say the security rationale behind his announcement of a 2015 deadline for the unconditional withdrawal of UK combat forces remains unclear and warn of "potential risks." And they criticise as " inappropriate and unhelpful" his public rebuke to Pakistan for its record on counter-terrorism during his visit to India last year.

Pakistan: CIA man has no immunity
A Pakistani court has said a CIA contractor facing trial over the fatal shooting of two men does not have diplomatic immunity. The court in the eastern city of Lahore also adjourned hearing of the case where Raymond Davis, 36, is being tried until March 8.Thursday's decision is at least a temporary blow to the US, which insists Davis was considered a diplomat and was acting in self-defence against the dead men, whom he called robbers. The US had retained a retired judge, Zahid Hussain Bokhari, who is also a former government prosecutor, to help with the Davis case. The issue of immunity is also being considered by the Lahore high court, which could override the trial court's decision. Asad Manzoor Butt, a lawyer for the families of the two men, said: "The court adjourned the hearing until March 8 because Mr Bokhari [the retired judge] said he needs time to complete papers for the case."The case has further inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and is testing the often-strained ties between the allies.Last month an influential US senator, John Kerry, apologised to the Pakistani government over the shooting but Barack Obama, the US president, has said Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Conventions."We expect Pakistan ... to abide by the same convention," Obama said.Along with the two men Davis shot, a third Pakistani was killed when struck by a US car rushing to aid the American on January 27 in Lahore. The US embassy in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, has yet to comment on the decision.

3rd March 2011

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