Monday, 23 December 2013

Breaking News: Jonathan replies Obasanjo

December 20th 2013
His Excellency,
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR
Agbe L’Oba House, Quarry Road,
Ibara, Abeokuta.


I wish to formally acknowledge your letter dated December 2, 2013 and other previous correspondence similar to it.

You will recall that all the letters were brought to me by hand. Although both of us discussed some of the issues in those letters, I had not, before now, seen the need for any formal reply since, to me, they contained advice from a former President to a serving President. Obviously, you felt differently because in your last letter, you complained about my not acknowledging or replying your previous letters.

It is with the greatest possible reluctance that I now write this reply. I am most uneasy about embarking on this unprecedented and unconventional form of open communication between me and a former leader of our country because I know that there are more acceptable and dignified means of doing so.
But I feel obliged to reply your letter for a number of reasons: one, you formally requested for a reply and not sending you one will be interpreted as ignoring a former President.

Secondly, Nigerians know the role you have played in my political life and given the unfortunate tone of your letter, clearly, the grapes have gone sour.  Therefore, my side of the story also needs to be told.
The third reason why I must reply you in writing is that your letter is clearly a threat to national security as it may deliberately or inadvertently set the stage for subversion.

The fourth reason for this reply is that you raised very weighty issues, and since the letter has been made public, Nigerians are expressing legitimate concerns. A response from me therefore, becomes very necessary.

The fifth reason is that this letter may appear in biographies and other books which political commentators on Nigeria’s contemporary politics may write. It is only proper for such publications to include my comments on the issues raised in your letter.

Sixthly, you are very unique in terms of the governance of this country. You were a military Head of State for three years and eight months, and an elected President for eight years. That means you have been the Head of Government of Nigeria for about twelve years. This must have, presumably, exposed you to a lot of information. Thus when you make a statement, there is the tendency for people to take it seriously.

The seventh reason is that the timing of your letter coincided with other vicious releases. The Speaker of the House of Representatives spoke of my “body language” encouraging corruption. A letter written to me by the CBN Governor alleging that NNPC, within a period of 19 months did not remit the sum of USD49.8 billion to the federation account, was also deliberately leaked to the public.

The eighth reason is that it appears that your letter was designed to incite Nigerians from other geopolitical zones against me and also calculated to promote ethnic disharmony. Worse still, your letter was designed to instigate members of our Party, the PDP, against me.

The ninth reason is that your letter conveys to me the feeling that landmines have been laid for me. Therefore, Nigerians need to have my response to the issues raised before the mines explode.
The tenth and final reason why my reply is inevitable is that you have written similar letters and made public comments in reference to all former Presidents and Heads of Government starting from Alhaji Shehu Shagari and these have instigated different actions and reactions. The purpose and direction of your letter is distinctly ominous, and before it is too late, my clarifications on the issues need to be placed on record.

Let me now comment on the issues you raised. In commenting I wish to crave your indulgence to compare what is happening now to what took place before.  This, I believe, will enable Nigerians see things in better perspective because we must know where we are coming from so as to appreciate where we now are, and to allow us clearly map out where we are going.

You raised concerns about the security situation in the country. I assure you that I am fully aware of the responsibility of government for ensuring the security of the lives and property of citizens. My Administration is working assiduously to overcome current national security challenges, the seeds of which were sown under previous administrations.  There have been some setbacks; but certainly there have also been great successes in our efforts to overcome terrorism and insurgency.

Those who continue to down-play our successes in this regard, amongst whom you must now be numbered, appear to have conveniently forgotten the depths to which security in our country had plunged before now.
At a stage, almost the entire North-East of Nigeria was under siege by insurgents. Bombings of churches and public buildings in the North and the federal capital became an almost weekly occurrence. Our entire national security apparatus seemed nonplussed and unable to come to grips with the new threat posed by the berthing of terrorism on our shores.

But my administration has since brought that very unacceptable situation under significant control. We have overhauled our entire national security architecture, improved intelligence gathering, training, funding, logistical support to our armed forces and security agencies, and security collaboration with friendly countries with very visible and positive results.

The scope and impact of terrorist operations have been significantly reduced and efforts are underway to restore full normalcy to the most affected North Eastern region and initiate a post-crisis development agenda, including a special intervention programme to boost the region’s socio-economic progress.
In doing all this, we have kept our doors open for dialogue with the insurgents and their supporters through efforts such as the work of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and the Peaceful Resolution of the Security Challenges in the North-East. You also know that the Governor of Borno State provided the items you mentioned to me as carrots. Having done all this and more, it is interesting that you still accuse me of not acting on your hardly original recommendation that the carrot and stick option be deployed to solve the Boko Haram problem.

Your suggestion that we are pursuing a “war against violence without understanding the root causes of the violence and applying solutions to deal with all the underlying factors” is definitely misplaced because from the onset of this administration, we have been implementing a multifaceted strategy against militancy, insurgency and terrorism that includes poverty alleviation, economic development, education and social reforms.

Even though basic education is the constitutional responsibility of States, my administration has, as part of its efforts to address ignorance and poor education which have been identified as two of the factors responsible for making some of our youth easily available for use as cannon fodder by insurgents and terrorists, committed huge funds to the provision of modern basic education schools for the Almajiri in several Northern States. The Federal Government under my leadership has also set up nine additional universities in the Northern States and three in the Southern States in keeping with my belief that proper education is the surest way of emancipating and empowering our people.

More uncharitable persons may even see a touch of sanctimoniousness in your new belief in the carrot and stick approach to overcoming militancy and insurgency. You have always referred to how you hit Odi in Bayelsa State to curb militancy in the Niger Delta.  If the invasion of Odi by the Army was the stick, I did not see the corresponding carrot.  I was the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State then, and as I have always told you, the invasion of Odi did not solve any militancy problem but, to some extent, escalated it. If it had solved it, late President Yar’Adua would not have had to come up with the amnesty program. And while some elements of the problem may still be there, in general, the situation is reasonably better.

In terms of general insecurity in the country and particularly the crisis in the Niger Delta, 2007 was one of the worst periods in our history. You will recall three incidents that happened in 2007 which seemed to have been orchestrated to achieve sinister objectives.  Here in Abuja, a petrol tanker loaded with explosives was to be rammed into the INEC building. But luckily for the country, an electric pole stopped the tanker from hitting the INEC building.  It is clear that this incident was meant to exploit the general sense of insecurity in the nation at the time to achieve the aim of stopping the 2007 elections.  It is instructive that you, on a number of occasions, alluded to this fact.

When that incident failed, an armed group invaded Yenagoa one evening with the intent to assassinate me.  Luckily for me, they could not.  They again attacked and bombed my country home on a night when I was expected in the village. Fortunately, as God would have it, I did not make the trip.
I recall that immediately after both incidents, I got calls expressing the concern of Abuja.  But Baba, you know that despite the apparent concern of Abuja, no single arrest was ever made. I was then the Governor of Bayelsa State and the PDP Vice-Presidential candidate. The security people ordinarily should have unraveled the assassination attempt on me.

You also raised the issues of kidnapping, piracy and armed robbery. These are issues all Nigerians, including me are very concerned about. While we will continue to do our utmost best to reduce all forms of criminality to the barest minimum in our country, it is just as well to remind you that the first major case of kidnapping for ransom took place around 2006. And the Boko Haram crisis dates back to 2002. Goodluck Jonathan was not the President of the country then. Also, armed robbery started in this country immediately after the civil war and since then, it has been a problem to all succeeding governments.  For a former Head of Government, who should know better, to present these problems as if they were creations of the Jonathan Administration is most uncharitable.

Having said that, let me remind you of some of the things we have done to curb violent crime in the country. We have reorganized the Nigerian Police Force and appointed a more dynamic leadership to oversee its affairs. We have also improved its manpower levels as well as funding, training and logistical support.
We have also increased the surveillance capabilities of the Police and provided its air-wing with thrice the number of helicopters it had before the inception of the present administration. The National Civil Defence and Security Corps has been armed to make it a much more effective ally of the police and other security agencies in the war against violent crime. At both domestic and international levels, we are doing everything possible to curb the proliferation of the small arms and light weapons with which armed robberies, kidnappings and piracy are perpetrated. We have also enhanced security at our borders to curb cross-border crimes.

We are aggressively addressing the challenge of crude oil theft in collaboration with the state Governors. In addition, the Federal Government has engaged the British and US governments for their support in the tracking of the proceeds from the purchase of stolen crude. Similarly, a regional Gulf of Guinea security strategy has been initiated to curb crude oil theft and piracy.
Perhaps the most invidious accusation in your letter is the allegation that I have placed over one thousand

Nigerians on a political watch list, and that I am training snipers and other militia to assassinate people. Baba, I don’t know where you got that from but you do me grave injustice in not only lending credence to such baseless rumours, but also publicizing it. You mentioned God seventeen times in your letter. Can you as a Christian hold the Bible and say that you truly believe this allegation?

The allegation of training snipers to assassinate political opponents is particularly incomprehensible to me. Since I started my political career as a Deputy Governor, I have never been associated with any form of political violence. I have been a President for over three years now, with a lot of challenges and opposition mainly from the high and mighty. There have certainly been cases of political assassination since the advent of our Fourth Republic, but as you well know, none of them occurred under my leadership.
Regarding the over one thousand people you say are on a political watch list, I urge you to kindly tell

Nigerians who they are and what agencies of government are “watching” them. Your allegation that I am using security operatives to harass people is also baseless. Nigerians are waiting for your evidence of proof. That was an accusation made against previous administrations, including yours, but it is certainly not my style and will never be. Again, if you insist on the spurious claim that some of your relatives and friends are being harassed, I urge you to name them and tell Nigerians what agencies of my administration are harassing them.
I also find it difficult to believe that you will accuse me of assisting murderers, or assigning a presidential delegation to welcome a murderer. This is a most unconscionable and untrue allegation. It is incumbent on me to remind you that I am fully conscious of the dictates of my responsibilities to God and our dear nation. It is my hope that devious elements will not take advantage of your baseless allegation to engage in brazen and wanton assassination of high profile politicians as before, hiding under the alibi your “open letter” has provided for them.

Nevertheless, I have directed the security agencies and requested the National Human Rights Commission to carry out a thorough investigation of these criminal allegations and make their findings public.

That corruption is an issue in Nigeria is indisputable.  It has been with us for many years. You will recall that your kinsman, the renowned afro-beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti famously sang about it during your first stint as Head of State. Sonny Okosun also sang about corruption. And as you may recall, a number of Army Generals were to be retired because of corruption before the Dimka coup.  Also, the late General Murtala Mohammed himself wanted to retire some top people in his cabinet on corruption-related issues before he was assassinated.  Even in this Fourth Republic, the Siemens and Halliburton scandals are well known.

The seed of corruption in this country was planted a long time ago, but we are doing all that we can to drastically reduce its debilitating effects on national development and progress. I have been strengthening the institutions established to fight corruption. I will not shield any government official or private individual involved in corruption, but I must follow due process in all that I do. And whenever clear cases of corruption or fraud have been established, my administration has always taken prompt action in keeping with the dictates of extant laws and procedures. You cannot claim to be unaware of the fact that several highly placed persons in our country, including sons of some of our party leaders are currently facing trial for their involvement in the celebrated subsidy scam affair. I can hardly be blamed if the wheels of justice still grind very slowly in our country, but we are doing our best to support and encourage the judiciary to quicken the pace of adjudication in cases of corruption.

Baba, I am amazed that with all the knowledge garnered from your many years at the highest level of governance in our country, you could still believe the spurious allegation contained in a letter written to me by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and surreptitiously obtained by you, alleging that USD49.8 billion, a sum equal to our entire national budget for two years, is “unaccounted for” by the NNPC. Since, as President, you also served for many years as Minister of Petroleum Resources, you very well know the workings of the corporation. It is therefore intriguing that you have made such an assertion.

You made a lot of insinuations about oil theft, shady dealings at the NNPC and the NNPC not remitting the full proceeds of oil sales to the of CBN. Now that the main source of the allegations which you rehashed has publicly stated that he was “misconstrued”, perhaps you will find it in your heart to apologize for misleading unwary Nigerians and impugning the integrity of my administration on that score.

Your claim of “Atlantic Oil loading about 130, 000 barrels sold by Shell and managed on behalf of NPDC with no sale proceeds paid into the NPDC account” is also disjointed and baseless because no such arrangement as you described exists between Atlantic Oil and the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company. NPDC currently produces about 138, 000 barrels of oil per day from over 7 producing assets.

The Crude Oil Marketing Division (COMD) of the NNPC markets all of this production on behalf of NPDC with proceeds paid into NPDC account.
I am really shocked that with all avenues open to you as a former Head of State for the verification of any information you have received about state affairs, you chose to go public with allegations of “high corruption” without offering a shred of supporting evidence. One of your political “sons” similarly alleged recently that he told me of a minister who received a bribe of $250 Million from an oil company and I did nothing about it.

He may have been playing from a shared script, but we have not heard from him again since he was challenged to name the minister involved and provide the evidence   to back his claim.  I urge you, in the same vein, to furnish me with the names, facts and figures of a single verifiable case of the “high corruption” which you say stinks all around my administration and see whether the corrective action you advocate does not follow promptly. And while you are at it, you may also wish to tell Nigerians the true story of questionable waivers of signature bonuses between 2000 and 2007.

While, by the Grace of God Almighty, I am the first President from a minority group, I am never unmindful of the fact that I was elected leader of the whole of Nigeria and I have always acted in the best interest of all Nigerians. You referred to the divisive actions and inflammatory utterances of some individuals from the South-South and asserted that I have done nothing to call them to order or distance myself from their ethnic chauvinism. Again that is very untrue. I am as committed to the unity of this country as any patriot can be and I have publicly declared on many occasions that no person who threatens other Nigerians or parts of the country is acting on my behalf.

It is very regrettable that in your letter, you seem to place sole responsibility for the ongoing intrigues and tensions in the PDP at my doorstep, and going on from that position, you direct all your appeals for a resolution at me. Baba, let us all be truthful to ourselves, God and posterity. At the heart of all the current troubles in our party and the larger polity is the unbridled jostling and positioning for personal or group advantage ahead of the 2015 general elections. The “bitterness, anger, mistrust, fear and deep suspicion” you wrote about all flow from this singular factor.

It is indeed very unfortunate that the seeming crisis in the party was instigated by a few senior members of the party, including you. But, as leader of the party, I will continue to do my best to unite it so that we can move forward with strength and unity of purpose. The PDP has always recovered from previous crises with renewed vigour and vitality. I am very optimistic that that will be the case again this time. The PDP will overcome any temporary setback, remain a strong party and even grow stronger.

Instigating people to cause problems and disaffection within the party is something that you are certainly familiar with. You will recall that founding fathers of the Party were frustrated out of the Party at a time.  Late Chief Sunday Awoniyi was pushed out, Late Chief Solomon Lar left and later came back, Chief Audu Ogbeh and Chief Tom Ikimi also left. Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo left and later came back. In 2005/2006, link-men were sent to take over party structures from PDP Governors in an unveiled attempt to undermine the state governors. In spite of that, the Governors did not leave the Party because nobody instigated and encouraged them to do so.

The charge that I was involved in anti-party activities in governorship elections in Edo, Ondo, Lagos, and Anambra States is also very unfortunate. I relate with all Governors irrespective of political party affiliation but I have not worked against the interest of the PDP.  What I have not done is to influence the electoral process to favour our Party. You were definitely never so inclined, since you openly boasted in your letter of how you supported Alhaji Shehu Shagari against Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe and others in the 1979 presidential elections while serving as a military Head of State. You and I clearly differ in this regard, because as the President of Nigeria, I believe it is my duty and responsibility to create a level playing field for all parties and all candidates.

Recalling how the PDP lost in states where we were very strong in 2003 and 2007 such as Edo, Ondo, Imo, Bauchi, Anambra, and Borno, longstanding members of our great party with good memory will also consider the charge of anti-party activities you made against me as misdirected and hugely hypocritical. It certainly was not Goodluck Jonathan’s “personal ambition or selfish interest” that caused the PDP to lose the governorship of Ogun State and all its senatorial seats in the last general elections.

You quoted me as saying that I have not told anybody that I will seek another term in office in 2015. You and your ambitious acolytes within the party have clearly decided to act on your conclusion that “only a fool will believe that statement” and embark on a virulent campaign to harass me out of an undeclared candidature for the 2015 presidential elections so as to pave the way for a successor anointed by you.

You will recall that you serially advised me that we should refrain from discussing the 2015 general elections for now so as not to distract elected public officials from urgent task of governance. While you have apparently moved away from that position, I am still of the considered opinion that it would have been best for us to do all that is necessary to refrain from heating up the polity at this time. Accordingly, I have already informed Nigerians that I will only speak on whether or not I will seek a second term when it is time for such declarations. Your claims about discussions I had with you, Governor Gabriel Suswam and others are wrong, but in keeping with my declared stance, I will reserve further comments until the appropriate time.

Your allegation that I asked half a dozen African Presidents to speak to you about my alleged ambition for 2015, is also untrue.  I have never requested any African President to discuss with you on my behalf.  In our discussion, I mentioned to you that four Presidents told me that they were concerned about the political situation in Nigeria and intended to talk to you about it.  So far, only three of them have confirmed to me that they have had any discussion with you. If I made such a request, why would I deny it?

The issue of Buruji Kashamu is one of those lies that should not be associated with a former President.  The allegation that I am imposing Kashamu on the South-West is most unfortunate and regrettable.  I do not even impose Party officials in my home state of Bayelsa and there is no zone in this country where I have imposed officials.  So why would I do so in the South West?  Baba, in the light of Buruji’s detailed public response to your “open letter”, it will be charitable for you to render an apology to Nigerians and I.

On the issue of investors being scared to come to Nigeria, economic dormancy, and stagnation, I will just refer you to FDI statistics from 2000 to 2013. Within the last three years, Nigeria has emerged as the preferred destination for investments in Africa, driven by successful government policies to attract foreign investors. For the second year running, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Investments (UNCTAD) has ranked Nigeria as the number one destination for investments in Africa, and as having the fourth highest returns in the world.

Today, Nigeria is holding 18 percent of all foreign investments in Africa and 60 percent of all foreign investments in the ECOWAS Sub-Region. Kindly note also that in the seven years between 2000 and 2007 when you were President, Nigeria attracted a total of $24.9 Billion in FDI.  As a result of our efforts which you disparage, the country has seen an FDI inflow of $25.7 Billion in just three years which is more than double the FDI that has gone to the second highest African destination. We have also maintained an annual national economic growth rate of close to seven per cent since the inception of this administration. What then, is the justification for your allegation of scared investors and economic dormancy?

Although it was not emphasized in your letter of December 2, 2013, you also conveyed, in previous correspondence, the impression that you were ignorant of the very notable achievements of my administration in the area of foreign relations. It is on record that under my leadership, Nigeria has played a key role in resolving the conflicts in Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Guinea Bissau and others.

The unproductive rivalry that existed between Nigeria and some ECOWAS countries has also been ended under my watch and Nigeria now has better relations with all the ECOWAS countries.  At the African Union, we now have a Commissioner at the AU Commission after being without one for so long. We were in the United Nations Security Council for the 2010/2011 Session and we have been voted in again for the 2014/2015 Session. From independence to 2010, we were in the U.N. Security Council only three times but from 2010 to 2015, we will be there two times.

This did not happen by chance.  My Administration worked hard for it and we continue to maintain the best possible relations with all centres of global political and economic power. I find it hard therefore, to believe your assertions of untoward concern in the international community over the state of governance in Nigeria
With respect to the Brass and Olokola LNG projects, you may have forgotten that though you started these projects, Final Investment Decisions were never reached.  For your information, NNPC has not withdrawn from either the Olokola or the Brass LNG projects.

On the Rivers State Water Project, you were misled by your informant. The Federal Government under my watch has never directed or instructed the Africa Development Bank to put on hold any project to be executed in Rivers state or any other State within the Federation. The Rivers Water Project was not originally in the borrowing plan but it was included in April 2013 and appraised in May. Negotiations are ongoing with the AfDB.  I have no doubt that you are familiar with the entire process that prefaces the signing of a Subsidiary Loan Agreement as in this instance.

Let me assure you and all Nigerians that I do not engage in negative political actions and will never, as President, oppress the people of a State or deprive them of much needed public services as a result of political disagreement
I have noted your comments on the proposed National Conference. Contrary to the insinuation in your letter, the proposed conference is aimed at bringing Nigerians together to resolve contentious national issues in a formal setting. This is a sure way of promoting greater national consensus and unity, and not a recipe for “disunity, confusion and chaos” as you alleged in your letter.

Having twice held the high office of President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I trust that you will understand that I cannot possibly find the time to offer a line-by-line response to all the accusations and allegations made in your letter while dealing with other pressing demands of office and more urgent affairs of state.

I have tried, however, to respond to only the most serious of the charges which question my sincerity, personal honour, and commitment to the oath which I have sworn, to always uphold and protect the interests of all Nigerians, and promote their well-being.
In closing, let me state that you have done me grave injustice with your public letter in which you wrongfully accused me of deceit, deception, dishonesty, incompetence, clannishness, divisiveness and insincerity, amongst other ills.
I have not, myself, ever claimed to be all-knowing or infallible, but I have never taken Nigeria or Nigerians for granted as you implied, and I will continue to do my utmost to steer our ship of state towards the brighter future to which we all aspire.

Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration and warm regards.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Britain approves reforms to banking sector

A raft of regulations have been agreed in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2007-09 financial meltdown.

British banks will be forced to separate retail and investment operations in a bid to stop rogue - or systemic - speculation on international finance markets from putting ordinary people's savings at risk.

Bank bosses are also to be made criminally liable if their institution fails, according to a new raft of finance industry reforms approved by lawmakers on Monday.

The sweeping changes are aimed at tackling the structural and cultural failings which led to the near-collapse of the country's financial sector.

"This is a major milestone and marks the end of a three-year process, led by the government, to make the UK banking system stronger and safer so that it can support the economy, help businesses and serve consumers," said Sajid Javid, the minister in charge of the bill.

Javid said the new laws would help improve bankers' standards of conduct, generate extra competition in the industry and prevent British taxpayers from footing the bill for any future bank failures.

The bill also introduces new rules to make sure bankers' bonuses are paid over a longer term, to stamp out excessive risk-taking.

The reforms, dubbed "a new era of banking industry oversight", are the result of a lengthy legislative process started after the 2007/8 financial crisis and a series of mis-selling and rate-fixing scandals which shone a light on illegal and unethical behaviour at some of Britain's biggest banks.

"We have had this crisis. The horse has bolted, what we have got to do now is devise a stable door that can keep the next horse in," said Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, speaking in parliament last week.

The package is expected to receive a rubber stamp approval from Queen Elizabeth II and become law later this week.

Britain approves reforms to banking sector

A raft of regulations have been agreed in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2007-09 financial meltdown.

British banks will be forced to separate retail and investment operations in a bid to stop rogue - or systemic - speculation on international finance markets from putting ordinary people's savings at risk.

Bank bosses are also to be made criminally liable if their institution fails, according to a new raft of finance industry reforms approved by lawmakers on Monday.

The sweeping changes are aimed at tackling the structural and cultural failings which led to the near-collapse of the country's financial sector.

"This is a major milestone and marks the end of a three-year process, led by the government, to make the UK banking system stronger and safer so that it can support the economy, help businesses and serve consumers," said Sajid Javid, the minister in charge of the bill.

Javid said the new laws would help improve bankers' standards of conduct, generate extra competition in the industry and prevent British taxpayers from footing the bill for any future bank failures.

The bill also introduces new rules to make sure bankers' bonuses are paid over a longer term, to stamp out excessive risk-taking.

The reforms, dubbed "a new era of banking industry oversight", are the result of a lengthy legislative process started after the 2007/8 financial crisis and a series of mis-selling and rate-fixing scandals which shone a light on illegal and unethical behaviour at some of Britain's biggest banks.

"We have had this crisis. The horse has bolted, what we have got to do now is devise a stable door that can keep the next horse in," said Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, speaking in parliament last week.

The package is expected to receive a rubber stamp approval from Queen Elizabeth II and become law later this week.

Britain approves reforms to banking sector

A raft of regulations have been agreed in a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2007-09 financial meltdown.

British banks will be forced to separate retail and investment operations in a bid to stop rogue - or systemic - speculation on international finance markets from putting ordinary people's savings at risk.

Bank bosses are also to be made criminally liable if their institution fails, according to a new raft of finance industry reforms approved by lawmakers on Monday.

The sweeping changes are aimed at tackling the structural and cultural failings which led to the near-collapse of the country's financial sector.

"This is a major milestone and marks the end of a three-year process, led by the government, to make the UK banking system stronger and safer so that it can support the economy, help businesses and serve consumers," said Sajid Javid, the minister in charge of the bill.

Javid said the new laws would help improve bankers' standards of conduct, generate extra competition in the industry and prevent British taxpayers from footing the bill for any future bank failures.

The bill also introduces new rules to make sure bankers' bonuses are paid over a longer term, to stamp out excessive risk-taking.

The reforms, dubbed "a new era of banking industry oversight", are the result of a lengthy legislative process started after the 2007/8 financial crisis and a series of mis-selling and rate-fixing scandals which shone a light on illegal and unethical behaviour at some of Britain's biggest banks.

"We have had this crisis. The horse has bolted, what we have got to do now is devise a stable door that can keep the next horse in," said Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, speaking in parliament last week.

The package is expected to receive a rubber stamp approval from Queen Elizabeth II and become law later this week.

Think E-cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes?

The nicotine delivered by cigarettes -- even the electronic versions -- may still contribute to heart disease, a new study suggests.

A new paper delivered at the American Society of Cell Biology annual meeting in New Orleans on Sunday suggests that nicotine can cause direct harm to cells in the heart.

Nicotine is an highly addictive substance found in tobacco and is also found in vegetables in the nightshade family like eggplant and tomatoes.

The substance itself has a powerful impact on the body. It elevates your mood, suppresses your appetite and stimulates your memory; however, it also speeds up your heart rate and blood pressure.

E-cigarettes satisfy a smoker's craving for nicotine and mimic the physical movements of smoking, but were viewed as a healthier alternative by some since they don't contain the cancer-causing toxins of regular cigarettes.

Previous studies, such as one published in the journal The Lancet in September, have suggested e-cigarettes may be a more effective way for smokers to quit than nicotine patches or the "cold turkey" method.

In 2007, the Royal College of Physicians concluded, "If nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved."

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death, according to the American Heart Association.

For years, doctors have also known that smokers often develop heart problems in addition to lung problems.

Smoking increases a person's risk of developing atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque, a waxy substance, builds up in the arteries, narrowing and hardening them over time and limiting blood flow.

Atherosclerosis can cause heart attacks, strokes, and can even lead to death. The connection between smoking and atherosclerosis has been unclear, but scientist Chi Ming Hai may have discovered the root cause of the problem in the new study.

The molecular pharmacology professor at Brown University exposed cells found in the heart to nicotine. After only six hours, a kind of cellular drill, called podosome rosettes formed and ate through tissue.

When this happens in the vascular smooth muscle cells which are in the middle layer of the arterial wall to the inner layer, this can cause plaque to form in atherosclerosis. This happened when Hai exposed human and rat cells to nicotine.

What that means is that the nicotine is acting like "a kind of cancer of the blood vessel which is waking up these cells and breaking them away from their surrounding matric and then migrating having an effect like it is almost like digging a hole through the wall," Hai said. "I think this is potentially very interesting and significant."

It also means that the nicotine substitute of an e-cigarette may reduce a person's chance of having lung cancer, but it does not mean that their risk of heart disease will go away.

Research is still in the very early stages, Hai said, but he believes it would be a good area for the government to invest in to better understand the connection between smoking and heart disease.

"We have certain pillars in this data that shows something significant is going on here and we need to understand it better," Hai said. Smoke from e-cigs still poses some second-hand risk

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Battle Royal: The Duel Between 2 Different Facebooks

There are two distinct Facebooks: The version its users want and the version CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants.

As All Things Digital reports, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become "the best personalized newspaper in the world." He wants the News Feed to be a "refined, highbrow" experience with a mix of "high-quality" photos and stories. He doesn't want users to hop on Sunday morning to laugh at the photos their drunken friends uploaded from the night before, but rather to scroll a stylized digital newspaper with 1,000-word articles.

Zuckerberg and Vice President of Product Chris Cox are campaigning their newspaper-like "Reader" initiative, All Things D says, and both want this "ideal" News Feed to be part of its 1 billion users' everyday routine. But after a problematic rollout of another redesign in March, Facebook has decided not to release "Reader" and continue tweaking it until it's not as dramatic a shift from the current News Feed.

The second version of Facebook is what its users want: "A sort of tabloidized version of Facebook, where 'junk-food stories with LOLcat art' do insanely well and show up more often," All Things D writes.

Well-written news pieces often don't fare as well as a BuzzFeed meme. "Viral content inside Facebook means more engaged and potentially satisfied users," the site continues. "And happy users often means a happy Facebook."

But what does this all mean for advertisers?

Dan Levy, Facebook's director of small businesses, says the social media site has 1 million advertisers, according to Mashable. Facebook also has 25 million small businesses with active company pages, meaning that only 4 percent of companies active on Facebook use the network for advertising. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, says these numbers mean potential is boiling over--if only half of the 25 million small businesses start to advertise, Facebook can rake in $1.25 billion in ad revenue.

Depending on who wins--the Facebook newspaper or the viral cat videos--Facebook could become The New York Times or a site more akin to BuzzFeed. Either way, businesses may be faced with a choice about whether it's worthwhile to advertise on what could be a considerably different social network than the one they're familiar with today. Which version would you rather associate your business with to attract customers--a site with plentiful clickable, sharable content, or a site with highbrow news? Let us know in the comments below.

S&P downgrades US growth forecast

Standard & Poor's (S&P) credit ratings agency has lowered its U.S. growth forecast warning of "significant downside risks" from federal spending cuts.

"We've lowered our forecast for U.S. GDP growth in light of the additional sequester spending cuts in 2014 as well as the potential for another political standoff in Washington after the October government shutdown," S&P said on Monday, ahead of the bipartisan budget deal struck in Washington.

No 'extremists in my party,' says Dem Whip Hoyer

"We now expect the world's biggest economy to expand 2.6 percent next year, down from our forecast of 3.1 percent at last quarter's Credit Conditions Committee meeting," it added.

The ratings agency published its warning in its quarterly update on credit conditions in North America, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe on Monday, in which it gives its outlook on the "evolution of macroeconomic conditions and broad financial trends that could affect credit quality."

Guess what? DC could deliver a merry Christmas

U.S lawmakers reached a deal on Tuesday evening to fund the government past mid-January, averting another feared government shutdown like the one seen in October. In a new sign of bipartisan cooperation, Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to reduce automatic spending cuts and the deficit levels by $23 billion over two years.

The framework would set spending levels above the $967 billion cap established by the sequester; the budget for 2014 would be set at $1.012 trillion, and the budget for 2015 would be $1.014 trillion. The compromise means that they have effectively agreed to roll back billions of the harshest automatic spending cuts for the Pentagon and domestic programs.

Budget deal would reduce automatic spending cuts by $63 billion over two years

"While modest in scale, this agreement represents a positive step forward by replacing one-time spending cuts with permanent reforms to mandatory spending programs that will produce real, lasting savings," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

The agreement still needs to pass a vote in the Republican-controlled House, expected to take place by Friday, as well as a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate shortly thereafter but analysts expect it to pass as lawmakers are keen to avert a damaging government shutdown like the one seen in October.

Tea Party Founder: Time to Cut Federal Spending in Half

S&P had spotted some highlights for the U.S., noting that modest gains in employment and a continuing recovery in the housing market were bolstering consumer sentiment and spending. Furthermore, it said that "resilience" inthe private sector was "outweighing the drag from sequestration-relatedcuts in government spending and that Americans' purchasing power wasimproving. Nonetheless, these were not enough to prevent it lowering its growth outlook.

S&P noted that uncertainty about when the Federal Reserve would taper its bond-buying program -- and the reaction of global financial markets -- was also adding to headwinds facing global economies.

No respect! Traders unimpressed by 'boring' S&P trade

"A disorderly response from financial markets to the Fed's unwinding of quantitative easing remains a shared and important risk for credit conditions around the world," S&P warned. It added, however, that low inflation in the country meant that the fed was likely to "gradually taper bond purchases and to keep monetary policy accommodative through 2014."

"We anticipate overall financial conditions will remain favorable for some time," the report said.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The most infectious of all infectious diseases

His first investigation as a new Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer with the Centers for Disease Control was of a large outbreak of measles, mostly among Hispanic children, many under a year old, and many who became infected when they visited hospital emergency departments for other reasons.

I will never forget how nervous I was. I wanted to do a good job for those children, their families and everyone around them. These infants were too young to be vaccinated, and as a result they were particularly susceptible. So we vaccinated those around them to stop transmission.

By 2000, a decade after my EIS experience, measles transmission in the United States was declared to have been stopped. However, we still have occasional clusters of measles in pockets of unvaccinated children after measles has been brought into the United States from somewhere else in the world.

Usually there are about 60 cases of measles in the United States in any given year. But this year we saw 175 reported cases in the first 11 months -- all ultimately linked to people who brought measles to the United States from abroad.

Although most of us don't realize it because it is so rare in our country, measles is a serious disease. Worldwide, on an average day, 430 children -- 18 every hour -- die from measles and its complications.

Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 of 10 people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

Frieden: A nightmare health scenario we can stop

Today's interconnected world means we're all linked by the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Global travel speeds the rate at which infectious disease threats such as measles can be delivered to our doorstep.

Some think infectious diseases are no longer a problem in the industrialized world. But the fact is that infectious diseases continue to be with us. That's why prevention is the key.

The threat from measles would be far greater in the United States were it not for the development of the measles vaccine and its widespread use in childhood immunization programs around the world.

This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of its creation.

Since 2001, a global partnership that includes CDC has vaccinated more than 1 billion children. Over the past decade, these vaccinations have prevented more than 10 million deaths.

The worldwide effort to prevent deaths from measles will leave behind an important global health infrastructure that will continue to make the world more secure. Improvements overseas, such as strengthening surveillance and lab systems, training disease detectives, and building facilities to investigate disease outbreaks, make the world -- and the United States -- safer and healthier.

Measles is just a plane ride away. It can be brought here by U.S. travelers and visitors from other countries. We must continue to be vigilant about measles transmission here at home. Parents should protect their children by making sure they've had two doses of measles vaccine. And all of us should make sure we're up-to-date on vaccinations, particularly prior to overseas travel.

These steps will protect the United States from measles until the world becomes measles-free.

By CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden

Friday, 6 December 2013

10 surprising facts you probably didn't know about Nelson Mandela

1. He lived up to his name: Mandela's birth name was Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa, "Rolihlahla" means "pulling the branch of a tree" -- or, troublemaker. (The name "Nelson" was given to him by his teacher on his first day of elementary school. It's not clear why she chose that particular name. It was the early 1920s, and African children were given English names so British colonials could pronounce them easily).

2. He had a cameo in a Spike Lee film: He had a bit part in Spike Lee's 1992 biopic "Malcolm X." At the very end of the movie, he plays a teacher reciting Malcolm X's famous speech to a room full of Soweto school kids. But the pacifist Mandela wouldn't say "by any means necessary." So Lee cut back to a footage of Malcolm X to close out the film.

3. There's a woodpecker named after him: From Cape Town to California, streets named after Mandela abound. But he's also been the subject of some rather unusual tributes. Last year, scientists named a prehistoric woodpecker after him: Australopicus nelsonmandelai. In 1973, the physics institute at Leeds University named a nuclear particle the 'Mandela particle.'

4. He married a First Lady: Before tying the knot with Mandela on his 80th birthday, Graca Machel was married to Mozambique President Samora Machel. Her marriage to Mandela after her husband's death means she has been the first lady of two nations.

5. He was a master of disguise: When Mandela was eluding authorities during his fight against apartheid, he disguised himself in various ways, including as a chauffeur. The press nicknamed him "the Black Pimpernel" because of his police evasion tactics. "I became a creature of the night. I would keep to my hideout during the day, and would emerge to do my work when it became dark," he says in his biography, "Long Walk to Freedom."

6. A bloody sport intrigued him: Besides politics, Mandela's other passion was boxing. "I did not like the violence of boxing. I was more interested in the science of it - how you move your body to protect yourself, how you use a plan to attack and retreat, and how you pace yourself through a fight," he says in his biography.

7. His favorite dish is probably not yours: He's been wined and dined by world leaders. But what Mandela loved eating most was tripe. Yup, the stomach lining of farm animals.

8. He quit his day job: He studied law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and opened the nation's first black law firm in Johannesburg in 1952.

9. He was on the U.S. terror watch list: Mandela wasn't removed from the U.S. terror watch list until 2008 -- at age 89. He and other members of the African National Congress were placed on it because of their militant fight against apartheid.

10. He drew his inspiration from a poem: While locked up at Robben Island for decades, Mandela would read William Ernest Henley's "Invictus" to fellow prisoners. The poem, about never giving up, resonated with Mandela for its lines "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul." You may know it from the movie, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela.

The World's Top Billionaire Bachelors

Microsoft-co founder, Paul Allen, has won the title of the world's wealthiest bachelor, with an estimated personal fortune of $15.3 billion, according to a ranking by Wealth-X, a global wealth intelligence provider.
Sixty-year-old Allen, who is a business tycoon, investor and philanthropist, owns two sports teams—the Seattle Seahawks, an American football team and the Portland Trail Blazers, a basketball team. He has never been married and resides on Seattle's Mercer Island.

In November, he reportedly snapped up an eight-bedroom mansion in the Silicon Valley town of Atherton for $27 million, joining other billionaire residents in the neighborhood, including Google  chairman Eric Schmidt, Hewlett-Packard  Chief Meg Whitman and brokerage magnate Charles Schwab.

  High-tax states: still appeal to multimillionaires

Fashion magnate Giorgio Armani was ranked in second place, with personal net wealth of nearly $11 billion. The 79-year-old's business empire includes a high-fashion clothing line, watches and hotels—including The Armani Hotel at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, in the world's tallest building.

"Against the backdrop of a proliferation of matchmaking TV shows and online services, meeting the right person is harder than ever. Add to that the compounding difficulty of super wealth and navigating the right soul mate and discerning right intentions becomes even more challenging," said David S. Friedman, president at Wealth-X.

 Thirst for pricey wine: $39,700 bottle sets record

Mikhail Prokhorov, 48-year-old Russian industrialist, politician, and owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team came in third place, with a net worth of $9.3 billion

Meanwhile, Xavier Niel, 46, known as France's "Internet king" for creating WorldNet—the country's first Internet service provider—in 1993, claimed fourth place, with an estimated personal fortune of $8 billion.

Youngest billionaire bachelors
While, bachelors above the age of 60 comprised almost half of the top-10 ranking, two eligible billionaire singles in their 30s made the list.

Texas-based Scott Duncan, 31, one of the four children of Dan Duncan formerly the richest man in Houston who died in 2010—ranked seventh, with a personal fortune of $5.3 billion. Duncan is heir to the family fortune built by his father's energy-pipeline business.

 And the country with the youngest billionaires is...

And, in ninth place is Colombian-American Alejandro Santo Domingo Davila, 36. He is the eldest son from the second marriage of Julio Mario Santo Domingo Pumarejo—one of Latin America's richest and most influential men—and has an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.

The Harvard-educated billionaire serves on the boards of many of the companies controlled by the Santo Domingo Group—one of Colombia's biggest conglomerates that owns more than 100 businesses.

Time To Sue The White House

Lolzzzzz!!!!! The newest member of the Obama family got a little rambunctious as she stepped into the spotlight today.

Sunny, the Obama’s new puppy, joined the first lady this afternoon for some holiday arts and crafts with the children of military families. Michelle Obama walked Sunny around the State Dining Room of the White House on a leash as the children made paper flowers and decorated edible ornaments with an array of candy (several little ones appeared to be doing more snacking than decorating).

Bounding with excitement, Sunny got a bit too frisky at one point and knocked Ashtyn Gardner, 2, of Mobile, Ala.,  to the ground. The first lady gasped and immediately helped the toddler to her feet.  Dressed in a bright-red dress with a big black bow, Ashtyn appeared to be fine.
The first lady then introduced her to Sunny, who moments later playfully licked Ashtyn’s face.

Korea: Keeping It Dynamic

 My arrival in Seoul was somewhat delayed when dense fog caused my plane from Phnom Penh to be temporarily diverted from Seoul to Daegu. Still, better late than never! I was delighted to be back in Seoul, capital of one of the world’s most dynamic and innovative economies. Just remember: in a remarkably short period of time, Korea has risen from close to the bottom to close to the top—becoming the thirteenth most prosperous economy with an income per capita that is higher than the European Union average.

With such a track record, Korea plays an increasingly important role on the global stage. It held the annual presidency of the Group of Twenty advanced and emerging economies at the height of the global financial crisis in 2010. It is host to the Green Climate Fund, whose aim is to help developing countries respond to climate change—surely one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. And it is playing ever increasing leadership roles in other international institutions, including the IMF.

Korea’s enhanced role in global affairs is paralleled by the reach of its “soft power”: the famous “hallyu” (Korean wave) has swept Asia and beyond with the melodies of its K-pop stars, its addictive Korean dramas and the technological wizardry of its products. And who has not danced—or at least tried to dance—to Psy’s insanely catchy viral hit?

I was particularly interested in what the future might hold for the “miracle on the Han”. I learned a lot from my discussions—with the authorities, with women leaders, and with students at the extremely prestigious Seoul National University, where I had been invited for a lecture and dialogue with students.If I could distil the main takeaway from my interactions, it would be this: for Korea to stay at the cutting edge of the global economy, it needs to sustain the inclusive growth that has been the hallmark of its development, and give everybody the chance to develop their multiple talents and fulfill their rich potential.

In part, this means providing more opportunities for young people and women—who tend to be less included in the labor market than is the case in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

I was really struck by the worries of young people about growing inequality and discontent in society—especially related to their fears about finding meaningful work, job security, and a living wage in an ever more competitive world.

I was also struck by the Korean women I met—some of the most talented, determined, and dedicated women anywhere in the world. First among these, of course, is President Park Geun-hye, the first woman elected to the highest office in Korea, whose life has been dedicated to the service of her country. With women of this caliber, it is hard not to be optimistic about Korea’s future—but they must all be given a chance to access and demonstrate their many talents.

Letting everybody contribute also means strengthening the social safety net, and Korea can afford it. And it means making the services sector embrace more fully the dynamism that is the true hallmark of Korea, including by tackling vested interests where needed.

I take great encouragement from the government’s commitment to push ahead in all of these areas.

For my part, I emphasized the importance of an enduring partnership between Korea and the IMF. Korea has and will always have an important place at the IMF—exemplified most recently through our newly-appointed Korean director of the Asia and Pacific Department! I further saw Korea’s contribution in action with its generous commitment to provide $15 million over five years toward the IMF’s capacity building programs—a strong display of global solidarity that will give other countries the chance to follow in Korea’s footsteps.

In turn, the IMF wants to be of service to Korea, through our critical role in international economic cooperation and our multilateral perspective. We bring together the viewpoints of our global membership. And we have a unique cross-country perspective on how the different parts of the global economy fit together, affect each other, and ultimately can cooperate together for the global economic good.

In short, I left Korea feeling energized and optimistic. I also left looking forward to further partnership with Korea as it continues its dynamic quest to forge the best possible future for its people.

By: Christine Lagarde(IMF)

South Africans, some fearful, wake to life without Mandela

South Africans woke on Friday to a future without Nelson Mandela, and some said they feared the anti-apartheid hero's death could leave their country vulnerable again to racial and social tensions that he did so much to pacify.

As dawn broke and commuters headed to work in the capital, Pretoria, the commercial hub, Johannesburg, and Cape Town in the south, many were still in shock at the passing of a man who was a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

South Africans heard President Jacob Zuma tell them late on Thursday that the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate passed away peacefully at his Johannesburg home in the company of his family after a long illness.

Despite reassurances from leaders and public figures that Mandela's passing, while sorrowful, would not halt South Africa's advance away from its bitter apartheid past, some still expressed a sense of unease about the physical absence of a man famed as a peacemaker.

"It's not going to be good, hey! I think it's going to become a more racist country. People will turn on each other and chase foreigners away," said Sharon Qubeka, 28, a secretary from Tembisa township as she headed to work in Johannesburg.

"Mandela was the only one who kept things together," she said.

An avalanche of tributes continued to pour in on Friday for Mandela, who had been ailing for nearly a year with a recurring lung illness dating back to the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails, including the notorious Robben Island penal colony.

U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among world leaders and dignitaries who paid fulsome tribute to Mandela as a moral giant and exemplary beacon for the world.

American talk show host Oprah Winfrey added her voice to the tributes, saying Mandela "will always be my hero".

"His life was a gift to us all," she said in a statement.

But for South Africa, the loss of its most beloved leader comes at a time when the nation, which basked in global goodwill after apartheid ended, has been experiencing bloody labor unrest, growing protests against poor services, poverty, crime and unemployment and corruption scandals tainting Zuma's rule.

Many saw today's South Africa - the African continent's biggest economy but also one of the world's most unequal - still distant from being the "Rainbow Nation" ideal of social peace and shared prosperity that Mandela had proclaimed on his triumphant release from prison in 1990.

"I feel like I lost my father, someone who would look out for me. Already as a black person with no connections you are disadvantaged," said Joseph Nkosi, 36, a security guard from Alexandra township in Johannesburg.

Referring to Mandela by his clan name, he added: "Now without Madiba I feel like I don't have a chance. The rich will get richer and simply forget about us. The poor don't matter to them. Look at our politicians, they are nothing like Madiba."

Flags flew at half mast across the country and Zuma has announced a full state funeral for South Africa's first black president, who emerged from prison to help guide the country through bloodshed and turmoil to democracy.


Just hours after the news of Mandela's death, one of his veteran anti-apartheid comrades, former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, sought to assuage fears that the revered statesman's absence could revive some of the violent ghosts of apartheid.

"To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames - as some have predicted - is to discredit South Africans and Madiba's legacy," Tutu said in a reassuring statement.

"The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next ... It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on," Tutu said.

Zuma and his ruling African National Congress face presidential and legislative elections next year which are expected to reveal widespread discontent among voters about persisting poverty and unemployment two decades after the end of apartheid.

But the former liberation movement is expected to maintain its dominance over South African politics, despite the absence of one of its most towering figures.

"It is painful losing him but the ANC is going to stay strong and be dominant. The party is powerful and will stay in power," said office worker Tumi Matshidiso, 27.

Mark Rosenberg, Senior Africa Analyst at the Eurasia Group, said that while Mandela's death might give the ANC a sympathy-driven boost for elections due next year, it would hurt the party in the long term.

He saw Mandela's absence "sapping the party's historical legitimacy and encouraging rejection by voters who believe the ANC has failed to deliver on its economic promises and become mired in corruption."

"In short, Mandela's death will further de-couple the ANC from the liberation struggle on which it still bases much of its legitimacy," Rosenberg said in a briefing note.

Although Zuma's initial announcement of Zuma's death left the country hushed, later a crowd gathered overnight outside Mandela's old house in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, to sing songs in his praise.

"Mandela you brought us peace" was one of the songs.


Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority rule - a struggle that gave the 20th century one of its most respected and loved figures.

He was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid in 1960 but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country's white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later.

He was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 after helping to steer the racially divided country towards reconciliation and away from civil war.

"His greatest legacy is that we are basically at peace with each other," F.W. de Klerk, the white Afrikaner president who released Mandela in 1990, told the BBC in an interview.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honor he shared with de Klerk.

In 1999, Mandela handed over power to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy - a rare voluntary departure from power cited as an example to African leaders.

This made him an exception on a continent with a bloody history of long-serving autocrats and violent coups.

In retirement, Mandela shifted his energies to battling South Africa's AIDS crisis, a struggle that became personal when he lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005.

Mandela's last major appearance on the global stage came in 2010 when he attended the championship match of the soccer World Cup hosted by South Africa.


The world reacts to the death of Nelson Mandela

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has died at age 95 of complications from a recurring lung infection.

The anti-apartheid leader and Nobel laureate was a beloved figure around the world, a symbol of reconciliation from a country with a brutal history of racism.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Paul Walker Died Within Seconds of Crash, Coroner Rules

Paul Walker  died from the "combined effects of traumatic and thermal injuries" in Saturday's car accident in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office reported today.
Walker, 40, was the passenger in a 2005 Porsche driven by financial adviser Roger Rodas, 38, that crashed and then erupted in flames after striking a light pole and tree.
The coroner's office says that two different doctors did autopsies on the two men. They found that Rodas died on impact, with Walker dying "maybe" a few seconds after from the combined effects of the impact and the fire.
"Both deaths have been ruled by the coroner to be accidents," the report adds.
The report confirms that the two men who died in the vehicle were in fact Walker and Rodas, after reports earlier in the week that dental records were needed to identify the deceased.
 Tyrese Gibson Heartbroken Over Paul Walker's Death
Toxicology reports are expected in six to eight weeks.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's investigators are still trying to determine the cause of Saturday's crash, which claimed the life of the "Fast & Furious" star and his friend. They have said speed was a factor.
Sheriff's detective Jeff Maag told People magazine  the driver "was doing well over 45 [mph] – [it's] fair to say at least twice that."
 Paul Walker's Father Recalls Last Talk With His Son
That means Maag believes Rodas was going at least 90 mph on a street where the limit was just 45.
He added it will take days or weeks to complete the investigation and conclude how fast the car was going and whether mechanical problems caused the crash.

Argentina Slaps 35 Percent Tax On Credit Card Purchases Overseas

Argentines will have to pay a 35 percent levy on all purchases made on their credit cards in a foreign currency, whether they're traveling overseas or shopping online.

The tax will be imposed on purchases made overseas or online, as long as the transaction is conducted in a currency other than the Argentine Peso.

"We believe there is a drainage of foreign currency through tourism…we have to be very careful in the management of reserves to guarantee the flow of basic, intermediary and industrial materials," said Jorge Capitanich, President Cristina Kirchner's cabinet chief, on Tuesday.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the government’s decision came after central bank reserves plunged 29 percent this year to $30.9 billion. Economists estimate that tourism depletes the central bank's reserves by between $600 million and $800 million a month.

Since 2011, President Kirchner has has imposed strict limits on foreign-currency transactions to keep foreigners and Argentines from pulling money out of an economy suffering from 2 percent inflation. Businesses that want to buy imported equipment or people planning an overseas trip have to obtain government approval to legally purchase the foreign currency they need.

In addition to the tourism tax, the Argentine government is expected to approve this week higher taxes on luxury goods like high-end cars. Capitanich said last month that the tax would free up more reserves for essential imports to increase domestic output.

Several analysts cautioned that the latest move would create more distrust of the government and would not solve its dollar crunch.

"This is a ridiculous step that again hurts the private sector," told economist Jose Luis Espert to Reuters, claiming that the root of the problem was actually the government’s fiscal deficit - the third largest this decade.

"The government is financing it by printing pesos, but Argentines don't want pesos and spend them on travel or convert them into dollars," Espert said.

South American countries, who regularly receive large numbers of Argentine tourists also expressed concern.

"I don't think it(the currency exchange surcharge) is a positive" development, said Benjamin Liberoff, director of Uruguay's national tourism office, to AFP.

"Luckily, there are many tourists who have confirmed their reservations, who have booked their travel, and we're confident that after years of being faithful visitors, they’ll continue to travel here,” he said.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The bilateral relationship between the European Union and Norway

Today, I welcomed Prime Minister Erna Solberg  of Norway at the Council. Our meeting gave us a great opportunity to review the bilateral relationship between the European Union and Norway. A solid relationship that is very valuable to the European Union:


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