Also today: Earth shakes as Chile inaugurates president; Obama hammers China over yuan; Suu Kyi fights back against new election laws; Ground Zero workers set to get compensation for illnesses; Iraqi election results on knife-edge; Swedes follow US in Armenian “genocide” vote.
Possible ban on bluefin tuna fishing tops Cites agenda
Some 40 proposals are on the agenda for a marathon meeting of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The meeting in Qatar could help determine the fate of species such as polar bears, hammerhead sharks and red coral. But the tension is building up around Japan’s love affair with bluefin tuna, and the prospect that ivory might soon find its way back on to world markets. Kenya’s fighting a request by some nations to sell their ivory stockpiles, while there’s a pronounced focus on marine creatures that reflects a growing awareness of the looting of the seas through industrial-scale fishing for the past 60 or so years. Bluefin tuna’s high on the list. Its stocks have plunged an average of some 85% in the Atlantic Ocean since 1970, with more than half the catch going to Japan. A single tuna can fetch above $100,000, and the Japanese say they’ll opt out of Cites if a ban on trade is imposed.
Photo: Workers pull freshly-harvested Bluefin tuna aboard a refrigerated fish transport ship lying off the Calabrian coast in southern Italy November 20, 2009. Fishing nations agreed to cut by about a third the quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna, a giant fish prized by sushi lovers, numbers of which have been decimated by commercial catches. Picture taken November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Earth shakes as Chile inaugurates president
You never know what you’re going to get as a new president. For Chile’s Sebastian Pinera, the reminder came as the earth shook weeks after a magnitude-8.8 quake destroyed huge swathes of south-central Chile. Light fixtures rattled in the congressional hall in coastal Valparaiso as he was sworn-in, after which some 2,000 dignitaries headed for the high ground just in case the aftershocks set off another tsunami. More than a dozen strong shocks set the agenda for Chile’s first elected right-wing president in 50 years. During his presidential campaign Pinera said he’d improve the economy. Little did he foresee the huge reconstruction effort that’ll be needed. But the devastation of the quake may give him the power to really get people back to work, and to crack down heavily on crime at the same time. He’s just got to avoid looking like a dictator.
Obama hammers China over yuan
As expected, China’s currency is headline news as the world slowly pulls out of recession. In Washington, US President Barack Obama said China should move to a more market-based exchange rate to help US exporters and re-balance the global economy. It is a pressing issue, as the US trade deficit with China is not sustainable. It’s enabled the Chinese to grow their economy at a massive rate – currently near 10% per annum – while the export of US goods and services is hampered by Beijing keeping the yuan artificially low. The Chinese regard currency issues as an internal matter, and it’s about time they came out into the light. Obama said that the US has for too long served as the consumer-engine for the entire world, and that this needs review, and he’s quite right. Developing nations such as China and India export far more goods to developed countries than they import. This doesn’t enable them to properly grow domestic consumption, and creates huge imbalances in global trade.
Suu Kyi fights back against new election laws
Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi says the latest series of election laws passed in Myanmar ahead of a national election are unjust and repressive, according to AP. She’s no stranger to vicious authoritarian government, but this time the country’s military junta is seeking to expunge her and her National League for Democracy party from the political landscape once and for all. This will likely have violent repercussions down the line. Suu Kyi has called for Myanmar’s democratic forces to take unanimous action, but party spokesman Nyan Win hasn’t yet said how the NLD will respond. Patience is a virtue in the Buddhist country. The upcoming election will be the first poll since the NLD won a landslide victory in 1990, that the junta annulled before keeping Suu Kyi jailed or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. But she’s a very tough customer, and the generals fear her greatly.
Ground Zero workers set to get compensation for illnesses
Thousands of rescue workers who cleared up the Ground Zero site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center may get a total of $658 million from New York City as compensation for being made sick by dust from the collapsed towers. A judge and at least 95% of some 10,000 plaintiffs must approve the deal for it to take effect. The cash will come from a federally financed insurance fund of almost $1 billion. A claims adjudicator will decide on the validity of each plaintiff’s claim, and how much compensation they’ll get. That means a further wait for victims, after they already endured a long battle in the courts.
Iraqi election results on knife-edge
Initial election results show that Iraq’s major coalitions have deepened divisions across a fractured political landscape, with each group in the running to form a minority government. That means whoever wins will now have to get together with at least some members of other coalitions. That’s maybe not such as bad thing in a country dominated by three powerful groups – Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. The lines are clear-cut, and that’s better than what they suffered under Saddam Hussein, and is certainly an improvement on the anarchy that prevailed for many years after the Americans invaded. But candidates were quick to charge fraud, which leaves questions as to whether Iraq’s fledgling democratic institutions are strong enough to support a peaceful transfer of power. Some 62% of 19 million eligible Iraqis voted, despite a barrage of deadly bombings from militant groups. That means that most people had the courage to choose the ballot box to implement some form of stable rule as the US begins to withdraw its forces from Iraq. The politicians should respect that above all else. A Western observer said it’s a very close race. That means that nobody dominates, and it’s important that all parties see this as fundamental to democracy.
Swedes follow US in Armenian “genocide” vote
A week after the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee very narrowly approved describing as genocide the killing of Armenians by Turks in World War I, the Swedes have gone and done the same thing. Nearly 90 years have passed, but the past is very present. Ankara is livid, first recalling its ambassador to Washington, and now to Stockholm. The Americans voted 23 votes to 22 in favour, despite strong Turkish lobbying not to do so. Sweden’s parliament also passed the resolution by one vote, leaving the Turks to protest that the vote was based upon major errors and without foundation. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cancelled a visit to Sweden scheduled for next week. But the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks between 1915/16. The world is arguing over whether the killings were orchestrated, with more than 20 countries saying the massacres were genocide. Nato-member Turkey has also been trying to get into the EU for years. It’s a bridge between the Muslim and Christian worlds, but its secularism is slowly being undermined by a greater focus on Islam.