Category Archives: Europe

2 Western journalists killed in Syria, opposition activists say

Two Western journalists were killed Wednesday in the Syrian city of Homs amid heavy shelling from government forces, opposition activists said.

The Sunday Times of London said one of the journalists reportedly killed was staffer Marie Colvin — the only British newspaper journalist inside the embattled Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr.

And French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe confirmed journalist Remi Ochlik was killed in a bombing. He was 28.

Colvin was on air with CNN on Tuesday night, recalling how she watched a young boy die after his house was struck by shelling.

Colvin, who had reported from many conflicts including last year’s Libyan civil war, said Syria was the worst conflict she had covered, partly because of the sheer amount of ordinance falling on Homs.

“There’s a lot of snipers on the high builds surrounding the neighborhood. I can sort of figure out where a sniper is but you can’t figure out where a shell is going to land,” she said.

The deaths Wednesday followed that of New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who was reporting in eastern Syria when he died last week, apparently from an asthma attack, the newspaper said.

While violence erupting once again across the country Wednesday, Syrians pleading for help in stopping a government-led slaughter might have fresh hope, as the United States called for more international action and hinted that arming the opposition isn’t out of the question.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the conflict under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime demands reaction.

“We believe that we are in a situation where we — the international community — needs to act in order to allow for the transition from Assad to a more democratic future for Syria to take place before the situation becomes too chaotic,” Carney told reporters Tuesday.

Asked about calls in recent days by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, for the United States to consider arming the opposition, Carney said, “We don’t want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria, because that could take the country down a dangerous path.

“But we don’t rule out additional measures that, working with our international partners, that the international community might take,” he added.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland held out hope for a political solution, but she too cited the possibility of seeking “additional measures” in the absence of change.

“From our perspective, we don’t believe that it makes sense to contribute now to the further militarization of Syria. What we don’t want to see is the spiral of violence increase. That said, if we can’t get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures,” Nuland said.

While foreign officials spoke, Syrian government forces pounded the embattled city of Homs for the 18th consecutive day and tormented residents in several other cities, opposition activists said.

About 9,000 people have been killed — including 106 just Tuesday — since the government crackdown began almost one year ago, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committies of Syria.

At least 55 people werek illed in Idlib, 45 in Homs, three in the Damascus suburbs, two in Deir Ezzor and one in Aleppo, the LCC said.

The Revolutionary Council of Homs said shelling blasted through homes in the city’s Baba Amr neighborhood, but “the number of those injured could not be estimated because of the nonstop bombing,” it said.

“This attack carried out by the Assad forces can be considered a real genocide, and all this is happening amid an electricity, water, and communication services outage, accompanied by the unavailability of food, baby formula and medicine. In this manner, even those who may survive the bombing, end up dying due to hunger or lack of medical care,” the group said.

But the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Tuesday that “food and services are available in Homs,” and said “provocative channels are fabricating lies” to the contrary.

CNN cannot independently verify opposition or government reports of casualties because the government has severely limited access to the country by foreign journalists.

But the vast majority of accounts from inside Syria indicate al-Assad’s forces are slaughtering civilians in an attempt to quash opposition members, who are demanding his ouster and democratic reforms.



What’s the World’s top economies in 2050 will be…?!!

The global research department of HSBC has released a report predicting the rise and fall of the world’s economies in the next 40 years.

The world’s top economy in 2050 will be China, followed by the United States. No surprises there – since China’s reforms in the 1980s, economists have said it’s not a question of if, but when, China’s collective economic might will top the U.S.

But among the smaller, developing nations, there are several surprises by HSBC prognosticators:

* By 2050, the Philippines will leapfrog 27 places to become the world’s 16th largest economy.

* Peru’s economy, growing by 5.5% each year, jumping 20 places to 26th place – ahead of Iran, Columbia and Switzerland. Other strong performers will be Egypt (up 15 places to 20th), Nigeria (up nine places to 37th), Turkey (up six spots to 12th), Malaysia (up 17 to 21st) and the Ukraine (up 19 to 45th).

* Japan’s working population will contract by a world-top 37% in 2050 – yet HSBC economists predict it will still be toward the top performing economies, dropping only one spot to the 4th largest economy. India will jump ahead of Japan to 3rd on the list.

* The big loser in the next 40 years will be advanced economies in Europe, HSBC predicts, who will see their place in the economic pecking order erode as working population dwindles and developing economies climb. Only five European nations will be in the top 20, compared to eight today.  Biggest drop will be felt northern Europe: Denmark to 56th ( -29), Norway to 48th ( -22), Sweden to 38th (-20) and  Finland to 57th (-19).

HSBC 2050 list of top economies (change in rank from 2010)

1) China   (+2)

2) U.S.     (-1)

3) India     (+5)

4) Japan   (-2)

5) Germany (-1)

6)  UK      (-1)

7) Brazil    (+2)

8) Mexico (+5)

9) France (-3)

10)  Canada (same)

11)  Italy      (-4)

12)  Turkey (+6)

13)  S. Korea (-2)

14)  Spain    (-2)

15)  Russia (+2)

16)  Philippines (+27)

17)  Indonesia (+4)

18)   Australia (-2)

19)  Argentina (2)

20)  Egypt (+15)

21)  Malaysia (+17)

22)  Saudi Arabia (+1)

23)  Thailand (+6)

24)  Netherlands (-9)

25)  Poland (-1)

26)  Peru     (+20)

27)  Iran      (+7)

28)  Colombia (+12

29)  Switzerland (-9)

30)  Pakistan (+14)

“If we step away from the cyclicality, there are two ways economies can grow; either add more people to the production line via growth in the working population, or make each individual more productive,” the report says.

In other words, demographics – the size of your working population – along with the opportunities to flex that muscle help determine long-term economic trends. Big factors on the back half of that equation: Education opportunities, democratic governments or strong rule of law (a caveat that explains China and Saudi Arabia’s high placement).

“We openly admit that behind these projections we assume governments build on their recent progress and remain solely focused on increasing the living standards for their populations,” the report says. “Of course, this maybe an overly glossy way of viewing the world.”

Chief factors that may derail economies moving forward, the report says: War, energy consumption constraints, climate change, and growing barriers to population movement across borders.


Italy mafia boss Zagaria found in bunker – police

Mug shot of Michele Zagaria

Mr Zagaria had been living in hiding since the 1990s

Italian police say they have discovered the notorious chief of a Naples mafia clan, Michele Zagaria, who has been on the run for 16 years.

Police said they had found him after digging through a secret bunker in his home town of Casapesenna near Naples.

Described as head of the powerful Casalesi clan, he was sentenced to multiple life sentences in absentia.

The Casalesi clan has been involved in drug trafficking and corruption in the construction industry.

There was jubilation among the security forces who finally managed to detain Mr Zagaria, the BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome reports.

“You won. The state has won,” Mr Zagaria told anti-mafia investigators as he was being arrested, according to the AFP news agency.

Italian Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri hailed the arrest as “a huge success by the state”, adding that it would be a blow “not only against the Casalesi clan, but against the entire Camorra organisation.”

‘Near home’

Map of Italy

The Casalesi clan is one of a number of groups within the Camorra criminal network, which dominates the underworld in the Naples area.

Mr Zagaria had probably spent his years as a fugitive near home because mafia bosses “can only exercise their power if they’re in an environment that protects them,” anti-mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso told the AP news agency.

Mr Zagaria is thought to be the most senior figure in the Camorra who was still at large.

Russia unveils new radar system to counter European U.S. missile shield

MOSCOW – In its bid to counter Western plans for a U.S. missile shield in Europe, Russia on Tuesday launched a state-of-the art antimissile radar with a detection range of 6,000 kilometers, close to the borders of NATO alliance members Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast. Sticking to his last week’s threat to take steps to counter U.S.-led NATO missile defense system in Europe posing mortal danger for Moscow’s nuclear deterrence, President Dmitry Medvedev said, “This is the first signal of Russia’s readiness for an adequate response to the threats posed by European AMD to our strategic nuclear forces.” He was addressing the top military commanders after inaugurating the anti-missile radar in Russia’s Baltic Exclave of Kaliningrad. The Voronezh-DM radar station has been working in test mode for the whole of 2011. There were no technical failures over this period, Interfax news agency reported, quoting a source in the defense ministry. With the effective detection range of 6,000 kilometers, the Voronezh-DM is capable of working in tandem with Moscow’s missile defense system. “If our signal is not heard, as I said on November 23, we will continue deploying other means of defense,” Medvedev said in his televised remarks.

Many similarities in Arab Spring, European chaos

Graffiti says "Down with the regime" on Spain's parliament building near a riot officer during a protest before elections this month.

The victory of the opposition Popular Party in Spain’s general election means that seven leaders or governments around the Mediterranean have been thrown out within the last year, amid an explosion of popular protest. Several more are fighting for their survival. Places often perceived as the cradle of civilization have become bywords for political chaos. The causes are various, but there are common strands that suggest the fallout from 2011 will be with us for many years to come.

In the Arab world, a younger (urban) generation rebelled against authoritarian dynasties and a stifling lack of opportunity. Young Tunisians and Egyptians saw that their contemporaries elsewhere — in countries like India, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil — had opportunity, the oxygen of free expression, growing income. Meantime, young Arabs were still trapped under the heel of unresponsive, corrupt regimes in stagnant economies.

In Europe, the consequence of bloated state spending within the straitjacket of the eurozone — the 17 countries that use the single European currency — was a contradiction bound to end in tears. Former British Prime Minister John Major wrote in the Financial Times this month, “The root of the present chaos can be traced back to bad politics taking precedence over sensible economics.” If the Arab protests were motivated by a “crisis of comparison,” Europe’s was a “crisis of entitlement” built on false expectations.

As different as their origins are, the upheavals either side of the Mediterranean have some similarities. The speed of events, the technology of globalization (money can be moved instantly around the world; immediate communication is enabled by social media) simply swamped the old order — whether an Arab potentate facing rebellious citizens or a European government facing rebellious markets.

The unrest also represents a growing distrust of and resistance from political leaders that has taken flight around the globe. In Europe, the rise of right-wing populist parties reflects disenchantment with the post-war political consensus. In the Middle East, where the polling booth has rarely offered a way to blow off steam, the upheavals have been measured by feet on the street.

Despite being very different societies, the countries of southern Europe and North Africa share other problems. Youth unemployment is sky-high — in Spain, more than 40% of those under 25 have no work; in Tunisia, 30%; in Egypt, at least 25%. Half a million young Egyptians join the workforce every year. And growth is anemic or nonexistent on both sides of the Mediterranean. The Greek economy is expected to contract 5% this year. Most economists expect an extended period of very low growth in Italy, where some 30% of sovereign debt is due to be rescheduled next year. Egypt will struggle to achieve 1.5% growth; Tunisia is flat-lining.

Kick-starting these economies would require massive stimulus spending. But there is no Marshall Plan for the new Arab world; and no political will in Europe to shower more money on the south. On Monday, Olli Rehn, the European economic and monetary affairs commissioner, said bluntly that austerity was the only path available. “One simply cannot build a growth strategy on accumulating more debt, when the capacity to service the current debt is questioned by the markets,” he said. If the Arab revolutions are to be sustained, the money will have to come from the Gulf, with a little help from a very busy International Monetary Fund.

The political earthquakes around the Mediterranean may have a common consequence too: Many of the new leaders have little or no experience of governing. Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos are experienced technocrats, but they inherit combustible crises where bare-knuckle politics will be just as important as economic expertise. In fractious parliaments, they may struggle to command consistent majorities. Mariano Rajoy, who will become Spain’s new prime minister next month, has plenty of ministerial experience but inherits a country seething with resentment toward its politicians where debt in the private sector is the biggest worry. Before the election, rolls of toilet paper bearing the faces of both Rajoy and his opponent were selling well.

In Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, political novices and academics are inheriting revolutionary situations where expectations are as unrealistic as the challenges of education, poverty and building a civil society are enormous. There are complex relationships to work out with the security forces (as has become brutally evident in Egypt), millions desperately needing work, and the main markets for their exports and tourism industries are stagnant.

The consequences of 2011 will take several years to shake out.

Best case

Analysts say the ideal scenario might go like this: The European Union, chastened by its near-death experience, adds fiscal and other economic disciplines to the luxury of monetary union. German politicians and the Bundesbank overcome their reluctance to beef up the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort for the sake of holding the eurozone together. After painful restructuring involving the slimming of government, the inner core of the EU begins to recover, providing, along the way, markets and jobs to the Arabs across the water.

Not everyone sees this as the panacea. John Major believes still closer integration “would drive voters and decision-makers dangerously far apart. More top-down Europe imposed by a remote elite could provoke a powerful antipathy.”

According to this optimistic model, authoritarian leaders and sectarian rifts in the Arab world are superseded by the “Turkish model” personified by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim who has presided over record growth in eight years as Turkey’s prime minister. Islam and democracy live side by side; the state remains secular (if at times overbearing); the people’s abilities are liberated; an educated middle class grows and becomes a force for stability; and the economy prospers. Syria eventually joins Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as a democracy of sorts, and Iran loses influence as a result.

There are some favorable straws in the wind. Both the Ennahda party in Tunisia (already successful at the polls with 41% of the votes for the Constituent Assembly) and a newly formed Islamist party in Libya under the leadership of Ali al-Sallabi vow to follow Turkish-style moderation, separating the state from religious affairs while accepting Sharia as the inspiration for legislation. Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (the same name as Turkey’s ruling party) expects to do well in this week’s legislative elections.

The irony of this is that Turkey turned its focus toward the Arab world and Central Asia only after its application to join the EU was pushed into the slow lane. Now, some European politicians are urging a fresh strategic dialogue with Turkey as it becomes a key player throughout the Mediterranean.

Worst case

A less-than-ideal scenario sees a new generation of authoritarian leaders emerge in the Arab world, some of them bent on a stricter application of Sharia law. The fundamental challenges of opportunity, education and women’s rights are not addressed; military forces intervene in the democratic process (as they used to in Turkey). In some places, a lack of effective government gives militant Islam room to grow; in others, sectarian rifts between Shia and Sunni fester. In Syria, the fissure is between the minority Alawites and majority Sunni. Vali Nasr, author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape The Future”, says that struggle could quickly draw in major players in the region.

In Europe, the worst-case scenario sees Germany turning its back on the “olive belt.” Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of the ECB’s role: “We interpret the [EU] treaties such that the ECB doesn’t have the authority to solve the problems.” The popular mood darkens as unemployment remains stubbornly high. Far-right parties become crucial components in governing coalitions (in Finland and the Netherlands, they already are); hostility toward immigration continues to grow; and the post-war social democratic model collapses as an aging population bankrupts state services.

Add to this grim prognosis a possible split between EU members inside and outside the eurozone — the countries that have adopted the single currency. Those inside (17 at present) mesh their economies closer; those outside (10, including Britain) become marginal to the European project. British Prime Minister David Cameron has already begun arguing that Europe’s problems are the result of over-stretch.

The very worst possibility is that the eurozone collapses in disorderly fashion, taking the European single market with it and leading to a deep recession across the continent. That is a scenario now being openly discussed by the likes of Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager.

Somewhere in between?

The course of events may end up to be a messy combination of the above. In the short term, there will be no escape from volatility and anxiety. Should new Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti fail to deliver the reforms that the markets expect, there will probably be an outsize reaction among investors. Plenty of analysts foresee a “disorderly default” by Greece and the sovereign debt of France, Belgium, Spain and Italy coming under further pressure.

As Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, wrote Monday: “There are 17 parliaments [in the eurozone] with different political systems, party structures, entrenched special interests, and electoral calendars that make concerns of American gridlock seem quaint.”

In the Arab world, an exceptionally strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, continued unrest in Cairo or uncertainty about the Saudi succession might send shudders through Western allies. Syria’s descent into civil war would bring on much more than shudders.

One probable outcome of the drama of 2011 will be a shift in the center of gravity in both Europe and the Middle East. Long the economic engine of Europe, Germany is now asserting its political clout. As a condition for underwriting any rescue of the eurozone, it is likely to demand much closer integration of eurozone economies.

In the Middle East, as Egypt is preoccupied with the fallout of revolution, Saudi Arabia is beginning to assert itself. It has been unusually vocal in its criticism of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, is developing a closer relationship with Turkey and mobilizing Arab opinion against Iran, while forcefully backing the monarchies of Jordan and Morocco. It also has the funds to reinforce its influence. Qatar’s activism in Libya and Syria is more evidence of a tilt in the regional balance toward the Gulf.

Last week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Europe faced “a truly systemic crisis” — words that might well have come from the other side of a stormy Mediterranean.

HSBC says it may quit London

HSBC, Caernarfon. It is located at Castle Square

Image via Wikipedia

The London-based bank posted a 36 percent third-quarter fall in profits

HSBC has threatened to leave the UK due to new capital rules as it posted a 36 percent third-quarter fall in profits, the bank said on Wednesday.

The bank blamed lower investment banking income and higher bad debt in the US for the higher-than-expected drop in profits.

HSBC also criticised the City of London, saying the cost of UK regulatory reform could be as high as $2.5 billion (£1.6 billion), and that it might move its headquarters out of the country where it has been based for the past 20 years or so.

Shares in Europe’s biggest bank fell by more than 5 percent in early trading on Wednesday, after HSBC said its underlying pretax profit was 36 percent lower at $3 billion in the three months to the end of September.

“Trading conditions showed some improvement during October, but they remain very difficult and continuing turbulence in global markets may result in further downside risk,” the bank said in a earnings statement.

HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver aims to cut annual costs by $3.5 billion and sharpen the bank’s focus on Asia, quitting countries where the bank lacks scale in an attempt to revive profitability.

By 9:22 a.m., HSBC’s London-listed shares were 4.4 percent weaker at 513.7 pence. The stock has fallen more than 20 percent this year – still not as bad as a 31 percent drop in the wider DJ index of European banks.

HSBC said loan impairment charges and other credit risk provisions were $0.7 billion higher at the end of the quarter compared to a year ago, which was mainly due to an increase in its run-off portfolio in North America.

The increase was largely linked to the moratorium on foreclosures in the US, HSBC said.

Its cost efficiency ratio so far this year also worsened, to 54.6 percent from 54.0 percent last year, while it had reduced headcount by 5,000 since the first quarter.

“The outlook for the global economy is very challenging as problems in developed markets begin to affect growth rates around the world,” HSBC said.

Hackers attack Norway’s oil, gas and defence businesses

Oil, gas and defence firms in Norway have been hit by a series of sophisticated hack attacks.

Industrial secrets and information about contract negotiations had been stolen, said Norway’s National Security Agency (NSM).

It said 10 firms, and perhaps many more, had been targeted in the biggest wave of attacks to hit the country.

Norway is the latest in a growing list of nations that have lost secrets and intellectual property to cyber thieves.

The attackers won access to corporate networks using customised emails with viruses attached which did not trigger anti-malware detection systems.

Targeted attacks

The NSM said the email messages had been sent to specific named individuals in the target firms and had been carefully crafted to look like they had come from legitimate sources.

Many of the virus-laden emails were sent while the companies were in the middle of negotiations over big contracts.

It said user names, passwords, industrial drawings, contracts and documents had been stolen and taken out of the country.

The NSM believes the attacks are the work of one group, based on its analysis of the methods used to target individuals, code inside the viruses and how the data was extracted.

The agency said it was publishing information about the attacks to serve as a warning and to encourage other targeted firms to come forward.

“This is the first time Norway has revealed extensive and wide computer espionage attacks,” the NSM said in a statement.

Singled out

It said it found out about the attacks when “vigilant users” told internal IT security staff, who then informed the agency.

However, the NSM said, it was likely that many of the companies that had been hit did not know that hackers had penetrated their systems and stolen documents.

Security firms report that many other nations and industrial sectors have been targeted by data thieves in recent months.

The chemical industry, hi-tech firms and utilities appear to have been singled out.

Contracts, industrial drawings and logins were all stolen in the attacks

RIM can’t win

First, a puzzlingly disappointing “new feature.” Then, a massive network outage. Can RIM do anything right?

It’s hard to come up with a good metaphor for Research in Motion. The Keystone Kops is an easy one, but not all of RIM’s troubles are of its own making. The Old Testament character Job? Also not quite right, because most of RIM’s troubles are of its own making. How about Job in a Keystone Kops uniform? Or even better, Arrested Development‘s Gob in a Keystone Kops uniform.

This week co-CEO Jim Balsillie, during a speech in Dubai, introduced a new innovation for the company’s BlackBerry (RIMM) phone that has been widely ridiculed as not new and not innovative. And soon after his presentation, Dubai and a rather wide area surrounding it — the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa — was hit with a BlackBerry network outage. Now in its third day, the outage is spreading to North and South America. Early reports on Wednesday said parts of the United States are affected.

At first, the company blamed equipment failure in its facility in Slough, England. That city, of course is home to a branch of the Wernham Hogg paper company from the original British version of The Office, and to its office manager, David Brent. (But enough with the metaphors.)

Before the outage, Balsillie introduced the world to Tag, a feature that allows the sharing of contact info between two phones by tapping them together. Sound familiar? Sure it does. A similar app, though based on a different technology, has been available for both the iPhone and Android phones for years now. Even worse, the feature on those phones was never particularly popular.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News is reporting that the outage problem must be solved quickly because of a mounting data backup. If it isn’t resolved soon, RIM might have to sacrifice some customer data – that is, emails and whatnot — to fix the problem. Just the thing investors want to hear.

Still, the stock is trading about even as of midday Wednesday. Investors might see all this trouble as a sign that something big will happen sooner rather than later — new leadership, or maybe a takeover. In any case, it’s clear that something needs to happen.