Archive for February, 2008

Vietnam hikes fuel prices, risking inflation hit

February 25, 2008

Longer term demand will be aided by increasing wealth and car ownership, although imports are likely to fall by about a third after the country’s first 140,000 barrels per day oil refinery in Dung Quat begins operations next February, analysts have said.

(Reporting by Ho Binh Minh and Grant McCool, additional reporting by Felicia Loo in Singapore; Editing by Ramthan Hussain and Jonathan Leff) –

HANOI, Feb 25 – Vietnam raised retail fuel prices for the first time in three months on Monday, including an over one-third surge in diesel rates, as Hanoi risked worsening double-digit inflation to align with climbing global oil prices.

The country’s top fuel trader, Petrolimex, said on Monday it increased petrol prices by 11.5 percent, and diesel and kerosene by 36.3 percent, the biggest increase since January last year. It last raised prices by more than 15 percent in November.

The Finance Ministry approved the increase after lobbying by fuel retailers who are forced to bear mounting financial losses for selling imported fuel at a loss on the domestic market. Until its first refinery is completed in about a year’s time, Vietnam is almost entirely dependent on imported fuel. [ID:nSP202133]

Its predicament is a familiar one in Asia, where many governments subsidise fuel in one way or another. But crude prices have quandrupled in the past five years, forcing Beijing, Delhi and others to allow domestic prices to rise. [

“The policy is a good one to phase out over time, but unfortunately this increase is at a time when Vietnam is suffering inflationary pressure,” said Adam McCarty of Mekong Economics consultancy.

State media quoted Finance Minister Vu Van Ninh as saying the price rise would add about 0.5 percent to inflation, which hit 14.1 percent in January due to higher food and fuel prices.

The number was the highest in 12 years and posed a major test to the Communist Party government that is pushing faster market reforms while the economy grows at more than 8 percent a year.

And local rates are still lagging, even though Hanoi has moved more quickly over the past year to close the gap.

Petrol prices are up 44 percent since early 2007 and up 70 percent since mid-2005. Crude prices have doubled since mid-2005.

State media quoted Petrolimex Deputy Director Vuong Thai Dung as saying that at 13,000 dong a litre for the 92-octane petrol, the company had a monthly loss of more than $100 million.

The popular 92-octane petrol is now 14,500 dong per litre from 13,000 dong, while diesel and kerosene are 13,900 dong per litre, up from 10,200 dong, Petrolimex said in a statement.

DEMAND ON TRACK

Analysts and traders say the price increase is unlikely to reverse a trend of fast-growing demand for motor fuels, with most of the country’s 85 million people dependent on motorbikes for transport or heavier vehicles for their livelihood.

“This will make life much harder for us blue-collar workers as we have to be on the road all the time, we have no other choice but keep on driving. Drive more to make more money,” said Hanoi electrician Bui Dinh Nguyen.

But in a country with an average per capita annual income of only $825, the rise will hurt. Nguyen said he spends about 600,000 dong a month, or 20 percent of his monthly income of 3 million dong, on gasoline for his 100-cc Honda Dream.

Last year oil products imports soared 12 percent to 12.55 million tonnes, while the import bill rose by more than a quarter to $7.7 billion. January oil product imports rose 8.6 percent from a year ago to 1 million tonnes, government data showed.

The government allows state retailers to adjust retail prices to avoid losses but they first need to get approval from the government, which has resisted rises.

From last year, the government stopped subsidies for gasoline and diesel as it moved to liberalise the sector.

An official with Petrolimex told Reuters that its short-term fuel demand could ease following a speculative surge in buying.

“Consumption will calm short-term. Consumers had bought more fuel on rumours of the price increase,” said the official.

Longer term demand will be aided by increasing wealth and car ownership, although imports are likely to fall by about a third after the country’s first 140,000 barrels per day oil refinery in Dung Quat begins operations next February, analysts have said. (Reporting by Ho Binh Minh and Grant McCool, additional reporting by Felicia Loo in Singapore; Editing by Ramthan Hussain and Jonathan Leff)

Bomb attack kills army general near Pakistan’s capital

February 25, 2008

(AP)  A bomb exploded on a busy road near Pakistan’s capital on Monday, killing an army general and two other people, state television reported.The blast occurred on Mall Road, a busy thoroughfare in Rawalpindi, a city just south of Islamabad where the Pakistani military has its headquarters.

Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Baig, the army’s surgeon general, was reported killed along with his driver and a guard.

China speaks out on Darfur crisis

February 25, 2008

The Christian Science Monitor
February 25, 2008

By Scott Baldauf, Peter Ford and Laura J. Winter 

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa; BEIJING; AND LONDON –

For much of the five-year conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region, Khartoum has counted on the silent support of its most important trading partner, China. While Western diplomats and human rights groups pressured China to exert its influence to halt the fighting, which has killed more than 200,000, Beijing seemed unmoved.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20080225/ts_
csm/opr_1

China’s noodle makers vie for share of $13 billion market

February 25, 2008
By Richard Dobson 

TAIPEI (Reuters) – With many of China‘s 1.3 billion people eating them every day, it’s not surprising that instant noodles are big business in China where an economic boom has created a generation of instant noodle eaters.

A customer selects instant noodles at a supermarket in Beijing ...
A customer selects instant noodles at a supermarket in Beijing January 16, 2008. With many of China’s 1.3 billion people eating them every day, it’s not surprising that instant noodles are big business in China where an economic boom has created a generation of instant noodle eaters. Estimated at $6.6 billion, China’s instant noodle business is set to double to around $13 billion by 2012 and players are scrambling for market share and brand recognition.
REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

From office workers in Shanghai to laborers on Shenzhen construction sites, instant noodles are eaten with relish due to the low cost and convenience.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080225/lf_nm/china_noodles_dc_1

Pakistan militants call for dialogue

February 25, 2008
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer Sun Feb 24, 3:26 PM ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Taliban-style militants battling government forces in northwest Pakistan said Sunday they wanted dialogue with the winners of parliamentary elections and urged the new leadership to abandon President Pervez Musharraf‘s war on terror.

The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, which will lead the new government, called for an end to military operations against autonomy-minded insurgents in another restive area — the southwestern province of Baluchistan where the U.S.-backed Afghan government believes the Taliban leadership may be hiding.

Opposition parties trounced Musharraf’s allies in Feb. 18 parliamentary elections….

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080224/ap_on_re_as/pakistan_21

China presses Sudan over Darfur peacekeepers

February 24, 2008
By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – China, under international pressure to help end conflict in Darfur, made a rare call on its Sudanese ally on Sunday to do more to allow foreign peacekeepers to deploy to the region.

From air-conditioned US shopping malls to bustling African street markets and remote Asian villages, shoppers have become accustomed over recent years to the vast array of ultra-cheap Chinese goods on offer.

China’s trade surplus last year reached 262.2 billion dollars, a more than 10-fold rise from 2003.

But now a confluence of factors, led by soaring domestic inflation that hit an 11-year high of 7.1 percent in January, is ramping up the costs of doing business in China, with potential knock-on effects for the rest of the world.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080224/bs_afp/
chinaeconomyinflationtrade_080224220708

As China’s inflation soars, world fears knock-on effects

February 24, 2008
by Benjamin Morgan

SHANGHAI (AFP) – As China‘s factory floors feel the pressure from spiralling costs, there is growing nervousness in the rest of the world that the Asian giant’s next big export could be inflation.

From air-conditioned US shopping malls to bustling African street markets and remote Asian villages, shoppers have become accustomed over recent years to the vast array of ultra-cheap Chinese goods on offer.

China’s trade surplus last year reached 262.2 billion dollars, a more than 10-fold rise from 2003.

But now a confluence of factors, led by soaring domestic inflation that hit an 11-year high of 7.1 percent in January, is ramping up the costs of doing business in China, with potential knock-on effects for the rest of the world.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080224/bs_afp/
chinaeconomyinflationtrade_080224220708

Pakistan’s Taliban Ready for Dialogue

February 24, 2008
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani Taliban fighters battling government forces in the northwest said Sunday they are ready for dialogue with the winners of last week’s election, and called on the new leadership to abandon President Pervez Musharraf‘s war on terror.

The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, which will lead the new government, called for an end to military operations against insurgents in another restive area — the southwestern province of Baluchistan where the Afghan government believes the leadership of the Afghan Taliban may be hiding.

U.S. officials are concerned about the future of Pakistan‘s role in the war on terror since anti-Musharraf parties trounced the ruling party in Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080224/ap_on_re_as/
pakistan;_ylt=AlaJ_6MrfCDNRSL8tWyDgRqs0NUE

Bruce Crandell: Medal Of Honor

February 24, 2008
By Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall’s heroics in Vietnam were immortalized in a movie and a critically acclaimed book.

More than 40 years after Crandall repeatedly risked his life to rescue American soldiers fighting one of the toughest battles of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military officially recognized his heroism Monday, when he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor.

“For the soldiers rescued, for the men who came home, for the children they had and the lives they made, America is in debt to Bruce Crandall,” President Bush said during the awards ceremony. “It’s a debt our nation can never really fully repay.”

Although it took more than four decades for the military to honor Crandall, he considers himself fortunate. (Watch Crandall recount the battle of la Drang Valley Video)

“Most people get [the Medal of Honor] after they are dead, so I’m one of the lucky ones,” said Crandall, 74, who lives in retirement with his wife, Arlene, in Manchester, Washington.

His heroism was almost unrecognized — when his unit deployed to Vietnam, it was shorthanded in administrative positions so that medal citations weren’t handled promptly, Crandall said. As the regulations were then written, citations could not be filed more than two years after the action took place.

Later the regulations were changed so that there was no limit on when citations could be filed.

Crandall’s story goes back to the early days of the Vietnam War.

On November 15, 1965, a battalion of soldiers was ordered to attack North Vietnamese troops in the Ia Drang Valley in the central highlands of South Vietnam. It would be the first major battle between the U.S. and North Vietnamese armies and one of the first uses of helicopters to insert troops into battle quickly.

Crandall flew the lead helicopter into the attack at Landing Zone X-Ray. The 450 American soldiers soon were surrounded by a much larger force of experienced North Vietnamese troops. During one landing, three men on Crandall’s helicopter were killed and three others were wounded.

“As we came in, across the trees, the enemy was there and in the landing zone. I had my crew chief shot through the throat,” Crandall said recently. “I could see the people shooting at me from, just off the left of my rotor blades.”

But he couldn’t shoot back because his helicopter didn’t have the M60 machine guns that later would become standard equipment on the UH-1 “Huey” that Crandall flew.

In spite of the danger, Crandall flew into X-Ray more than 18 times to bring in ammunition and bring out the wounded.

“It was the longest day I ever experienced in any aircraft,” Crandall said.

He had to switch helicopters several times because of damage from enemy fire.

“When an aircraft got hit in those times, we would use duct tape to cover the holes, and the purpose of covering the holes was so you knew what was a new hole and what was an old one that had been inspected,” he said.

Crandall and his wingman, Ed “Too Tall” Freeman, saved 70 wounded soldiers that day.

The battle and the pilots’ deeds were described in the book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young” by Gen. Harold Moore, commander of the battalion on the ground, and Joseph Galloway, the only war correspondent there for the entire battle.

It later was made into the 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson as Moore and Greg Kinnear as Crandall.

Crandall, a major at the time of the battle, was a consultant on the movie set.

The citation read at the White House ceremony said in part that Crandall’s “bravery and daring courage to land under the most extreme hostile fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue.”

Crandall said Freeman defines the word “hero.”

“Freeman didn’t have to volunteer,” Crandall said. “I have to go, I am the commander, so Freeman stepped up and went. I really didn’t want him to. We’d been friends for 10 years.”

Monday’s ceremony represented the third Medal of Honor awarded from that battle. Freeman received the Medal of Honor in 2001.

Walter “Joe” Marm, then a second lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), received the Medal of Honor in 1966 for his gallantry during the battle in the Ia Drang Valley. A retired colonel, Marm now lives in North Carolina.

Turkey presses offensive in Iraq, US urges short campaign

February 24, 2008
CIZRE, Turkey (AFP) – Fighting intensified Sunday between Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, amid US calls for Turkey to wrap up its military incursion in the region as swiftly as possible.

A US soldier loads ammunitions to a machine gun at the US army's ... 

(AFP/Kim Jae-Hwan)
Explosions and gunfire were reported in and around Hakurk, a stronghold of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Turkish border.More than a dozen Turkish warplanes could be seen heading for the area.

The PKK said Sunday it had shot down a Turkish attack helicopter, but there was no independent confirmation.

Turkish troops, backed by air support, moved into northern Iraq on Thursday evening in the largest cross-border offensive in years against PKK hideouts.

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