Also today: Nato bunkers down after ending Marjah assault; Greeks pressured to tighten spending even more as EU worries about euro; Obama wants to know who’s with him on healthcare; Iranian Supreme Leader comes out firing over nukes; Canadian ice hockey team re-writes the record books; SA artist Kentridge hits the big time in Big Apple.
Chile needs help as looters scour earthquake zone
Chile’s army is helping police prevent looting after a magnitude-8.8 earthquake brought down buildings in a wide area, killing at least 700 people. The mighty tremor was one of the most devastating in the region in centuries, forcing the South American country to call for international help after half-a-million homes were badly damaged. Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet says the country needs field hospitals, temporary bridges, and water purification plants to help local clean-up efforts, after gas explosions caused fires, power lines snapped and rubble was strewn in the streets. Google stepped in by creating a person-finder tool, enabling people to search for loved ones by name, or leave information in both English and Spanish. Photo: Reuters.
Nato bunkers down after ending Marjah assault
US Marines and Afghan troops are fortifying their positions around the Taliban town of Marjah, an opium-producing centre of about 80,000 people that supplied the Islamist militants with a steady supply of weapons using drug money. The battle for the town is over bar Taliban attacks on Nato supply convoys using roadside bombs, so now the peacemaking phase begins. Some 2,000 Marines and 1,000 of their Afghan allies will try and restore a civilian Afghan administration, bringing in aid and public services, and facilitating a long-term Nato presence in the town to make its residents feel safe. After the heat of battle, it’ll be a long and tense time for the troops.
Greeks pressured to tighten spending even more as EU worries about euro
Greece is planning a bond issue to help get it out of financial crisis. But the cost of money has risen and investors are leery that Greek authorities will implement the right mix of reforms in time to reduce the country’s $270 billion debt pile. The EU is worried that the Eurozone is threatened, and is sending in top officials to wave a big stick while showing that they stand behind Greece. A rescue plan will probably involve loan guarantees from the German and French governments, to encourage their banks to buy Greek debt. The EU wants Greek authorities to impose further austerity measures, after the government said it would rein in the costs of running its top-heavy civil service. That’s brought Greek workers into the streets in recent weeks, for fear that their cradle-to-grave security blanket is under threat. There’s been opposition elsewhere in Europe over providing direct aid to a nation that’s seen to have gone on a fiscal spending splurge in past years. Some $31.3 billion in debt repayments come due in April and May, on the back of an annual budget deficit of 12.7%. The EU limit on fiscal debt is 3%, so it’s highly unlikely that Greece will pay its debt down without substantial help.
Obama wants to know who’s with him on healthcare
The White House wants a simple “yes” or “no” vote on US President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appeal to Democrats to get behind the legislation even if it threatens their political careers looks like a sign of desperation from the ruling party. Republicans unanimously oppose the Democratic proposals, and Obama may now have to drop his cherished notion of bipartisanship on the matter and ram the legislation through. Healthcare reform has been a stumbling block for every modern American president, and proposals are usually heavily diluted by the time legislation gets passed. It’s not a quick process by any means, as politicking around new laws goes on for months and even years. Some 46 million Americans in all are in need of greater healthcare insurance, but whether moderate Democrats will put their careers on the line for them is something that is yet to be seen.
Iranian Supreme Leader comes out firing over nukes
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the US and its allies – Germany, Britain and France – are behind the UN’s claim that Iran is trying to make nuclear bombs, according to news agency AP. Considering the Iranians have spent years hiding their nuclear programme from international scrutiny, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent statement that the country may be working on nuclear weapons is hardly surprising. It’s the first time the world’s nuclear watchdog has sided with the US and its allies, and the Iranians have now jumped on the chance to query the body’s independence. They claim the IAEA is influenced by the Americans and other big Western powers, eroding trust in the UN. But the Iranians are playing a dirty political game, as they’ve always refused to cooperate with the IAEA over the enrichment of uranium that they say is for the generation of electricity. If they are wanting to obtain the technology to meet peaceful energy requirements, statements to the effect that they’ll blockade oil exports from the Persian Gulf and leave Europeans cold in winter, aren’t going to convince anyone of their sincerity.
Canadian ice hockey team re-writes the record books
It took 50 years for the Americans beat the Canadians in Olympic ice hockey. And while they managed last week, they couldn’t do it again to become Olympic champions, going down 3-2 in a thriller decided in overtime. Canada’s the hockey superpower, and this will remain enshrined in the nation’s sporting memory, after their team took a 14th gold medal for Canada in the final event of the 2010 Winter Games – breaking an all-time Olympic record. The US was the best team in Vancouver and Whistler, remaining unbeaten until the final game, and looking like they might take gold after making do with silver twice in the past three Olympics. Their young team trashed 2006 silver medallists Finland 6-1 in the semis. But the Canadians, who beat Germany 8-2, Russia 7-3, and pipped Slovakia 3-2 in the semifinals, got past them when it counted.
SA artist Kentridge hits the big time in Big Apple
South Africa’s William Kentridge is getting a lot of publicity for his Dmitri Shostakovich opera, “The Nose”, based on the story by Nikolai Gogol. And it’s coming from esteemed The New York Times, no less. The absurdist drama tells of a low-ranking civil official whose nose leaves his face and goes gallivanting around the imperial Russian capital of St Petersburg in the guise of a higher-ranked official. That should go down well at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, after all the Wall Street escapades. It’s Kentridge’s first production for the Met, but he also gets to simultaneously display his Five Themes exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art, combining film with prints and drawings. Kentridge generally speaks of the deadly ravages of apartheid through still and moving images, as anger and angst combine to underscore his roots.