Tuesday, April 17, 2012

U.S. eases Myanmar sanctions to boost NGO projects

U.S-eases-Myanmar-sanctions-to-boost-NGO-projects The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday relaxed sanctions on Myanmar to permit financial transactions to support certain humanitarian and development projects in the country as it moves ahead with democratic reforms after decades of military rule.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a general license authorizing financial transactions for a range of not-for-profit projects and programs in areas such as good governance, health, education and sport.

"We are taking this step today to support a broader range of not-for-profit activity in Burma by private U.S. organizations and individuals to promote increased cooperation between the Burmese and the American people," a senior Treasury Department official said.

The Obama administration announced this month that it planned to gradually ease certain sanctions on Myanmar, steps that could eventually see bans lifted on U.S. companies investing in or offering financial services to the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.

The move on sanctions follows a dramatic series of reforms in Myanmar, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in a parliamentary by-election this month that yielded a landslide victory for her party.

"These (steps) were action for action in response to what we viewed as very positive parliamentary elections," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing, adding that additional measures would be forthcoming.

The Treasury's announcement marked the first of a planned series of modest steps to unravel the complex web of U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the country's isolation and driven it closer to its powerful neighbor, China.

The United States has said it will name an ambassador to Myanmar after an absence of two decades, set up an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development there and support a regular U.N. Development Program operation in the country.

Future steps to ease sanctions could eventually open the door to U.S. investment in Myanmar's agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking sectors, U.S. officials say.

But U.S. officials say they want to see clear evidence of further reforms, including the release of all political prisoners, concrete steps toward national reconciliation, especially with ethnic groups that say they have long been oppressed by the central government, and an end to any military ties to North Korea.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement marking Myanmar's New Year Water Festival on Tuesday, said the last year had seen the country embark "on a historic new path toward democracy and economic development."

"We look forward to deepening cooperation on a wide range of issues that promote democratization and national reconciliation, from increasing access to education to expanding health care and encouraging a vibrant civil society," she said.

Pro-democracy advocates have urged the United States to move cautiously, saying sanctions are an important tool to maintain pressure on Myanmar's government to follow through on pledges of greater democratic openness.

"We need to carefully utilize the sanctions we have by gradually easing them. Major sanctions ... should be the last ones to touch," said Aung Din, president of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

(additional reporting by Paul Eckert; Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Beech)

Apple battles Greenpeace over "dirty" iPhone server farms

facebook_2195800b The environmental campaign group said in its annual report on internet firms that Apple relied on coal power for services such as iCloud and the voice-controlled “personal assistant", Siri, more than its rivals.

“Apple right now is falling behind companies like Google and Facebook, who are taking a leadership role on this issue,” said Greenpeace spokesman Dave Pomerantz.

“It’s a shame that a company that built its reputation on thinking differently is now behind the curve.”

But Apple hit back before the report was published on Tuesday, disputing Greenpeace’s figures and highlighting the green credentials of its enormous billion-dollar data centre in Maiden, North Carolina, and a second it plans to build in Oregon.

Greenpeace claimed that the North Carolina facility, which opened last year to support the launch of iCloud, Apple’s suite of online backup services, would require up to 100MW in power and that renewable energy would meet for only 10 per cent of demand.

Apple responded that the data centre would in fact consume a peak of only 20MW, of which 60 per cent would come from renewable sources such as a 171-acre solar array it is building nearby.

“Our data centre in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60 per cent of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country,” an Apple spokesman said.

“We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data centre ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100 per cent renewable energy."

As well as its power consumption, Greenpeace has targeted Apple in recent years on its use of toxic chemicals such as flame retardants in its gadgets. The group said it did not believe Apple’s claims about the North Carolina data centre.

“Apple has the highest percentage of coal power and has been highly reluctant to disclose anything about their data centre operations,” said Mr Pomerantz.

“It’s great that Apple is finally sharing some information, but given the size and cost of that facility it’s highly unlikely that it will ultimately consume only 20MW.”

Greenpeace’s report rated internet firms in four categories based on their transparency round energy consumption, the location of their infrastructure, their efficiency and their use of renewables. Apple came out among the worst performers in every category, especially for its choice to build in North Carolina and Oregon, where the regional electricity grids are heavily reliant on coal compared to other states.

Amazon, which as well as running its own vast online retail empire rents space in its global network of server farms to other companies such as Netflix and Dropbox, also received a poor report, as did Twitter, which said it was working to improve its environmental credentials.

“The Greenpeace report raises important considerations around energy efficiency,” a spokesman said.

“We continue to strive for greater energy efficiency as we build out our infrastructure, and we look forward to sharing more on our efforts in this space in the coming months.”

Google, which has invested heavily in renewable energy, was praised by Greenpeace, as was Facebook. Since the last report it has committed to build a 100 per cent hydroelectric data centre in Sweden.

The Telegraph

Spain clashes with Argentina in oil row

Spain has summoned Argentina's ambassador in Madrid for talks as tensions rise in a dispute over control of a Spanish-owned oil company.

The move on Tuesday came a day after Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner unveiled plans to seize control of the country's biggest oil company YPF, owned by Spain's Repsol.

Repsol shares fell sharply during trading on Tuesday, sinking by more than eight per cent in Madrid.

Antonio Brufau, the Repsol YPF SA president, told reporters that the company would mount a legal fight against the plan to seize control of YPF. He also accused the Argentine government of launching the move in a bid to to quell rising unrest at home.

Kirchner had "carried out an unlawful act and made unlawful charges after a campaign aimed at knocking down YPF shares and allowing expropriation at a bargain price," Brufau said, adding "This battle is not over."

European Commission 'disappointed'

Kirchner's announcement also drew swift warnings from key trade partners who said that relations with Buenos Aires would be damaged by the move.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said on Tuesday he expected Argentina to uphold international agreements on business protection with Spain.

"We emphasise the need for mutually agreed solutions which do not harm the business environment," Barroso told reporters.
"Thus I am seriously disappointed about yesterday's announcement."

YPF has been under intense pressure from Kirchner's centre-left government to boost production, and its share price has plunged due to months of speculation about a state takeover.

Kirchner said the government would ask Argentina's senate, where her party controls a majority, to approve a bill to expropriate a controlling 51 per cent stake in the company by seizing shares held exclusively by Repsol, saying energy was a "vital resource".

"If this policy continues - draining fields dry, no exploration and practically no investment - the country will end up having no viable future, not because of a lack of resources but because of business policies," she said.

'Hostile' move

Spain denounced the "hostile" move and warned that it would take "clear and forceful measures" in response.

Argentina's decision had "broken the climate of friendship" between the two countries, said Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, Spain's foreign minister, speaking after a crisis cabinet meeting called by Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister.

"It's a hostile decision against Repsol, thus against a Spanish business, and thus against Spain," said Jose Manuel Soria, the Spanish industry minister, speaking at the same news conference.

"The government is announcing that it will take all the measures it considers appropriate to defend the legitimate interests of Repsol and of all Spanish businesses abroad," he added.

Repsol bought Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales in 1999 for $15bn in what was the biggest operation of the privatisation programme of former Argentine President Carlos Menem.

The unit remains the largest oil firm in the South American nation, as the leader in fuel sales and 54 per cent of refining capacity.


WikiLeaks founder Assange to make debut as talk show host

120417015409-julian-assange-talk-show-promo-00002719-story-top WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's talk show, "The World Tomorrow," is expected to make its debut Tuesday on a state-funded Russian television network.

Assange and RT, an English-language international satellite news channel, have not released the guest lineup in advance, but have hinted that the first interview would be controversial. WikiLeaks has asked followers on Twitter if they can guess who the first guest on the show will be.

Assange will present the show from the country estate in Britain where he is under house arrest while fighting extradition to Sweden. He will interview the show's guests either via satellite feed or in person.

"Being under house arrest for so long, it's nice to have an occasional visitor and to learn more about the world," he said in a preview for the show posted on RT's website.

He said that the experience of interviewing guests -- described by RT as opinion formers, some of them dissidents -- while under house arrest brings a different dimension to the process.

The talk show has created a stir in global media circles.

Commentators outside Russia have questioned the apparent link the show creates between Assange and the Kremlin, given RT's government-funded status.

But Assange said in the preview that that kind of criticism was "trivial" and insisted he had "complete editorial control."

He said the "obvious" reaction from his critics would be to say, "There's Julian Assange -- an enemy combatant, a traitor -- getting into bed with the Kremlin and interviewing terrible radicals from around the world."

Britain's Supreme Court is weighing whether Assange should be sent to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault lodged by two women in the country.

Assange has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

"RT is rallying a global audience of open-minded people who question what they see in mainstream media and we are proud to premiere Julian Assange's new project," RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said in a statement on the television network's website.

"We provided Julian a platform to reach the world and gave him total editorial freedom. He is absolutely the right person to bring alternative opinions to our viewers around the globe."

"The World Tomorrow" will be broadcast [simultaneously] on three RT channels, in English, Arabic and Spanish.

The WikiLeaks website for "The World Tomorrow" says there will be 12 shows in total, each featuring a 26-minute edited interview.

A financial blockade imposed by U.S. banks on WikiLeaks, which facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, has been running for about 500 days.

This week also marks 500 days since the allegations of sexual assault were first made against Assange, WikiLeaks says.

WikiLeaks gained global fame in 2010 with the Iraq and Afghanistan war leaks, and then followed up by leaking nearly a quarter million State Department cables.

In February this year, it began releasing 5 million e-mails it said belonged to Stratfor, a Texas-based private company that produces intelligence reports for clients.


U.S. looking at "all options" on North Korea as nuclear test looms

U.S-looking-all-options-on-North-Korea-as-nuclear-test-looms The United States is looking at "all options" as it seeks to discourage North Korea from conducting a third nuclear test, a senior U.S. military officer said on Tuesday, days after a failed long-range rocket launch by the North that drew international condemnation.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday condemned reclusive North Korea for Friday's rocket launch and warned of further action if Pyongyang carries out a nuclear test, reflecting concern that it may follow a pattern it set in 2009 during its second nuclear test.

Commander of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Samuel Locklear said Washington had a range of options to consider in response to any further provocation by the North.

"I don't think it would be appropriate to comment on how we would pursue any future military operation, but I can tell you that with the alliance, that we are continually looking at all options," he said when asked whether a surgical strike on the North's nuclear test site was being considered.

The comments came as doubts were raised about the fate of a planned visit by international inspectors to the North's nuclear site after Pyongyang and Washington agreed in February to a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests in return for food aid.

That agreement fell apart when Pyongyang announced it would launch a long-range rocket to put a satellite into orbit, claiming its right to conduct space research. The West believed the launch was merely a ballistic missile test.

North Korea has revealed work on a uranium enrichment program, which arms experts said could give it a second path to building nuclear weapons after its plutonium-based program at Yongbyon nuclear complex was suspended under a 2005 international disarmament deal.

U.S. and South Korean officials have said former U.S. President Bill Clinton considered the possibility of a surgical strike on Yongbyon at the height of a nuclear crisis in 1994 before Pyongyang struck an energy deal with Washington to suspend nuclear activities.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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