Also today: Poles grieve over loss of leaders; EU pledges help for debt-ridden Greeks; Al-Qaeda high on agenda at world nuclear summit; Mickelson takes third win at Augusta Masters; China puts lid on currency row for now.
Thai protests become violent
Weeks of Thai political protests turned violent, as feared, when 21 people were killed and nearly 1,000 injured in clashes between demonstrators and security forces this weekend. To date, both sides had avoided bloodshed, other than protesters pouring their own blood over government buildings, symbolising the growing rift between the country’s elites, middle-class and the poor. Protesters are occupying downtown Bangkok, where shopping malls and five-star hotels host millions of tourists each year. But in a country where the military has seized power 18 times over the past 80 years, many believe the end has come for the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who took office in December 2008 through the machinations of parliament rather than the popular vote. The clashes are between supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who wooed the poor during his six years in power, and those that support the country’s politically-connected elites. In late 2006, a military coup ousted Thaksin, subsequently returning power to civilian politicians that represent the more affluent.
Photo: Anti-government protesters carry Reuters television cameraman Hiro Muramoto after he was shot during clashes in central Bangkok April 10, 2010. Hiro Muramoto was shot dead on April 10, 2010 during a violent clash between Thai troops and anti-government protesters in Bangkok’s worst political violence in 18 years. Picture taken April 10, 2010. REUTERS
Poles grieve over loss of leaders
Poland’s government has named new acting chiefs of the military and an interim central bank governor after a plane crash in Russia stripped the country of many of its highest officials – including the president and his wife. The deaths of 96 political, military and religious leaders aboard an aging Soviet-built plane shocked a country that has always had a deeply troubled relationship with its giant neighbour. President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage had gone to Russia to commemorate a World War II massacre of thousands of Polish military officers by dictator Josef Stalin’s secret police. The plane crash has added new and painful memories to the embittered history between the two countries, which had started a new chapter with the ending of the Cold War.
EU pledges help for debt-ridden Greeks
Markets will breathe a sigh of relief after finance ministers of Eurozone nations promised to provide up to $40 billion in emergency loans for debt-strapped Greece. The help comes in the form of a three-year financing programme at interest rates of about 5%, based on International Monetary Fund pricing formulas. And while Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his government can now get on with the painful task of slashing spending and restructuring the economy, Greece’s European partners said there were no subsidies on offer. The Greeks have an annual budget deficit of 12.7% – three times the European average – on the back of public debt of some $410 billion, sparking fears that the country’s malaise could weaken all 16 Eurozone economies by playing havoc with the value of the euro. Earlier vague pledges of assistance to Greece were met with scepticism in markets, but Papandreou says the latest offer has now sent a concrete message that speculators won’t be able to undermine European solidarity.
Al-Qaeda high on agenda at world nuclear summit
On the eve of an international summit aimed at finding ways to secure the world’s nuclear stockpile, Pakistan is struggling to make sure its nuclear weapons programme isn’t vulnerable to al-Qaeda, which is waging a global jihad against the US from its mountain bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the Muslim country is getting ready to vastly expand its production of weapons-grade fuel, much to the horror of nuclear-armed neighbour India, causing US President Obama to hold a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington ahead of the summit. India signed a nuclear deal during the administration of George W Bush, ending a moratorium on providing the country with nuclear fuel and technology for much needed civilian nuclear power plants. This ratcheted up competition between Hindu India and its Muslim nemesis. Meanwhile, Obama says al-Qaeda will have no hesitation in using nuclear weapons should it acquire them, citing the group as the biggest threat to US security. He said should there ever be a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg (an interesting choice), the ramifications would be catastrophic. The Nuclear Security Summit will see more than 40 world leaders arrive in Washington to deal with what Obama calls a profound international problem.
Mickelson takes third win at Augusta Masters
Phil Mickelson slipped into his third green jacket at the US Masters, joining five other players, including Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Sam Snead, in the record books at the world’s most famous golfing tournament. Only Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have won more tournaments at the Augusta, Georgia course. But even more than winning, his focus was turned to his wife Amy who met him at the 18th green with tears streaming down her face. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months ago and managed to get out of bed only on the last day of the historic event. The day was made more emotional with the return to competition of Tiger Woods for the first time since his sex-scandal blew up in international media. Woods took fourth place. Mickelson said he wasn’t sure his wife was going to be there to see him make one last birdie for a five-under 67 that gained him a three-shot victory over Lee Westwood. Mary Mickelson, his mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July.
China puts lid on currency row for now
Chinese President Hu Jintao is heading to Washington this week after Asian and other leaders met on China’s tropical island of Hainan for an annual gathering of the Boao Forum for Asia, a pow-wow modelled after the World Economic Forum in Davos that frequently asserts China’s growing status as a world power. Hu’s meeting with US President Barack Obama comes at a time of increasing friction with the Americans over the value of China’s yuan currency. The West says the fixed exchange rate is perhaps 25% to 40% lower than it should be, causing massive problems for exporters in developed countries. China has softened its stance on the yuan in the last week, saying it will trade more freely with Russia’s rouble, South Korea’s won and Malaysia’s ringgit. The tenor of the meeting in Hainan was less bellicose than at last year’s gathering during the depths of the world economic crisis, when China called for a new world financial order and indirectly threatened to stop buying US Treasury notes that help finance Washington’s huge budget deficit.