Monthly Archives: September 2011

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BANGKOK (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower Thursday as investors again began to doubt Europe’s ability to cauterize its worsening debt crisis.
Benchmark oil hovered above $81 a barrel while the dollar dropped against the euro but was steady against the yen.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 index shed 0.2 percent to 8,602.96 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.2 percent to 3,989.70. Markets in Hong Kong were closed due to an approaching typhoon.
Mainland China’s Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.5 percent to 2,380.34 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index dropped 1.5 percent to 1,016.63.
But South Korea’s Kospi rose 1.8 percent to 1,753.52. Benchmarks in Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines were also higher while India and Singapore were down.
Investment sentiment was dented after German Chancellor Angela Merkel late Wednesday suggested that a second bailout package for Greece might have to be renegotiated. Several European leaders want banks to take bigger losses on Greek bonds. France and the European Central Bank oppose the idea.
Earlier this week, financial stocks were buoyed by hopes that a plan was in the works to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debts — an event that some fear would crush banks with significant holdings of the country’s bonds and cause domino-style defaults in other indebted countries such as Italy.
“One of these days, they will manage to get something onto paper. But at the moment, it feels like a big swinging match,” said Ben Potter, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne. “Markets always sell off further than they should and snap back further than they should.”
“I think people sort of have fallen into the trap of thinking, ‘The market is rallying, so something good must be happening,'” he said.
Raw materials companies were among the biggest decliners in Asia after prices for commodities like copper and oil fell sharply. Investors fear that Europe’s problems could cause the global economy to slip into another recession, weakening demand for basic materials.
Japanese energy explorer Inpex dropped 1 percent. Nippon Steel fell 3.5 percent. In Australia, mining giants BHP Billiton fell 2.1 percent while Rio Tinto lost 3.3 percent. Newcrest Mining Ltd., the country’s biggest gold miner, fell 2.9 percent.
But technology companies fared better, following on the heels of U.S. tech shares.
South Korea’s LG Electronics soared 12 percent and Samsung Electronics, the world’s top global manufacturer of flat screen televisions, memory chips and liquid crystal displays, rose 4.1 percent. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. gained 5.4 percent.
Shares of POSCO, South Korea’s leading steelmaker, rose 2.2 percent as the company announced the start of work on a cold-rolled stainless steel plant in Turkey, Yonhap news agency said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., meanwhile, tumbled 12.17 percent following Japanese media reports that a government panel has estimated that compensation payments related to a nuclear leak following the March earthquake and tsunami disaster could reach as high as 5 trillion yen.
On Wall Street on Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.6 percent to close at 11,010.90. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.1 percent to 1,151.06. The Nasdaq composite index fell 2.2 percent to 2,491.58
The decline followed three days of gains. Stocks rose earlier this week on hopes that Europe was moving closer to resolving its debt problems. The Dow soared 272 points on Monday, its fourth-largest increase this year, and another 147 points on Tuesday.
Benchmark crude for November delivery rose 3 cents to $81.24 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $3.24, nearly 4 percent, to $81.21 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.
Oil rose sharply earlier this week on optimism Europe was getting a better handle on its debt crisis.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3617 from $1.3582 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 76.53 yen.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Inc took the wraps off its long-awaited “Kindle Fire” on Wednesday, tacking on a mass market-friendly $199 price tag that poses a serious threat to the dominance of Apple Inc’s two-year-old iPad.
The eagerly anticipated gadget, while lacking many of the high-tech bells and whistles common on tablets from cameras to 3G wireless connection, may sound the death knell for a raft of devices based on Google Inc’s Android. The software powers tablets made by Samsung, Motorola, Asustek, HTC and LG Electronics.
Dotcom-entrepreneur and billionaire-CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled to a packed audience the gadget he hopes will wed Amazon’s books, movies, music and other content with cloud or Internet-based storage and Web browsing.
“People have been waiting for a tablet for 200 bucks for a long time and this is the best one I’ve seen so far,” Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of gadget review website Engadget, told Reuters.
The Kindle Fire tablet has a 7-inch screen, free data storage over the Internet and a new browser called Amazon Silk. Amazon expects shipments to start on November 15 — hitting store shelves at Best Buy and other chains just in time for the peak holiday shopping season.
By pricing the Fire at less than half the iPad — yet stripping out costlier components and features — the Internet retailer hopes to get the device into millions of consumers’ hands, who in turn will buy Amazon content.
One key differentiator that might help the Fire stand out during the cut-throat holidays is Amazon’s “EC2” cloud computing service, which supports Internet browsing and helps speed loading of websites. That was not available on rival tablets, Stevens noted.
“Expect a blood bath as pricing will have to get extremely aggressive,” said Mark Gerber, an analyst at Detwiler Fenton & Co. He expects Amazon to sell at least 3 million Kindle Fires this holiday season, taking the No. 2 spot in the tablet market.
The Fire was unveiled alongside several rock-bottom-priced versions of the basic Kindle reader, with the lowest at $79 — a clear challenge to Barnes & Noble Inc’s Nook that will surely force the ailing bookstore chain to try and match.
Amazon shares closed 2.5 percent higher, while Barnes & Noble dropped 7 percent. Apple shares dipped 0.6 percent.
“These are premium products at non-premium prices,” Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said. “We are going to sell millions of these.”
Analysts had expected Amazon’s tablet to be priced around $250, roughly half the price of Apple’s dominant iPad, which starts at $499. The Nook Color e-reader costs $249.
The Web retailer might be angling for a lower-end slice of the market that Apple — which maintains a careful grip over its higher-end branding and margins — has traditionally steered clear of.
Bezos said Amazon is making “millions” of the tablet, without being more specific. However, he urged customers to pre-order the device.
When the original Kindle e-reader came out in 2007, it quickly sold out.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst at RW Baird, kept his Amazon tablet sales forecasts the same on Wednesday on concern about potential supply issues. He expects two million to three million units to be sold this year and four to six million next year.
“While we think the Kindle Fire could easily be the most successful Android-based tablet to date, the November 15 launch date, and the possibility of issues with ramping production — Apple encountered significant production issues with the iPad 2 — are the key reasons we are maintaining our current tablet estimates.”
Breaking into a crowded tablet market will be difficult. Companies from Hewlett Packard Co, Motorola, Samsung and Research in Motion Ltd have launched tablets, but none has taken a big bite out of Apple’s lead.
Apple dominates the North American tablet market, with 80 percent of the 7.5 million units shipped during the second quarter of 2011, according to Strategy Analytics.
Bezos took a jab at its larger rival during the New York press conference on Wednesday, noting that the Fire needs no wires for syncing. An image of a white USB cord appeared on the screen behind him, prompting laughter from the crowd.
Bezos didn’t mention Apple but the picture of the cord resembled those commonly used to connect iPhones and iPads to computers.
Still, Michael Yoshikami, who oversees $1 billion at YCMNET Advisors, discounted any serious hit to Apple — for now — because of Apple’s similarly rich library of content.
But he thought Apple may need to start offering some sort of subscription-based video streaming service — iTunes is download primarily — to respond. Rivals without their own content or services to support their devices, such as Samsung, are most exposed, he added.
“HP’s decision to get out of tablets is actually looking fairly bright,” he told Reuters.
Having its own tablet is important for Amazon because the company has amassed a mountain of digital goods and services that could be sold through such a device.
The tablet might also encourage customers of Amazon, the world’s largest Internet retailer, to shop online for physical products more often. (
Amazon recently redesigned its main shopping website to make it easier to navigate for mobile users.
“Getting this device into the hands of customers means Amazon can expand their e-commerce footprint — this is a strategic focus for the company,” said Eric Best, an Amazon veteran who now runs online commerce company Mercent.
“Every Kindle Fire user, by virtue of the better browser and richer operating system, has the potential to become a more frequent Amazon shopper.”
Meanwhile, competition at the high end of the market is heating up. Motorola on Wednesday announced it will offer 4G-LTE upgrades for Motorola Xoom users on Verizon Wireless, improving loading speeds.
(Additional reporting by Liana Balinsky-Baker and Sinead Carew in New York; Writing by Alistair Barr in San Francisco and Edwin Chan in Los Angeles; Editing by Derek Caney, Gerald E. McCormick and Bernard Orr)

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CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday the central bank might need to ease monetary policy further if inflation or inflation expectations fall significantly.
In his first public remarks since the Fed launched a fresh measure aimed at keeping down long-term borrowing costs, Bernanke indicated a willingness to push deeper into the realm of unconventional policy if economic growth remains anemic.
“It is something that we’re going to be watching very carefully,” Bernanke said in response to questions from the audience at a forum sponsored by the Cleveland Fed.
“If inflation falls too low or inflation expectations fall too low, that would be something we have to respond to because we do not want deflation,” Bernanke said.
The comment was made in response to a question about a recent decline in market-based inflation expectations, which policymakers see as a good gauge of future inflation trends.
The gap between yields on 10-year Treasury notes and their inflation-protected counterparts fell to 1.70 percent last week, the lowest since September 2010. It has edged up slightly since then and last stood at 1.86 percent.
In an effort to stanch the deepest recession in generations and help the recovery, the Fed not only slashed benchmark interest rates to effectively zero, but also more than tripled its balance sheet to around $2.9 trillion.
Despite these measures, growth has remained quite soft, averaging less than 1 percent on an annual basis in the first half of the year. Bernanke signaled he remains concerned about risks to the economy, which the Fed described as “significant” in its September policy statement.
“We have a lot of problems both in terms of recovery and in terms of longer-term growth,” he said.
Last week, the Fed said it will sell $400 billion in short-term Treasury securities and invest them into longer-dated ones to try to put downward pressure on borrowing costs over a longer period.
Investors have dubbed the program Operation Twist after a similar measure undertaken by the Fed in the 1960s. The central bank will also renew its help to the housing finance sector by reinvesting maturing mortgage bonds in its portfolio back into that market.
Bernanke called for the U.S. government to beef up its assistance to the ailing housing sector, the epicenter of the 2008 financial meltdown.
“Some strong housing policies to help the housing market recovery would clearly be very useful and would allow the monetary policy actions of the Fed … to have more effect and to help the economy recovery more strongly,” Bernanke said.
Asked about the fate of fallen mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Bernanke reiterated his view that the mortgage market remains too weak to allow the government to try to privatize the government-sponsored entities.
The Fed’s latest monetary easing did not have unanimous support within the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets monetary policy.
Three regional central bank presidents dissented against the move. Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig, who does not have a vote on the committee this year but has been a vocal opponent of the Fed’s unconventional policies, took a parting shot at the central bank’s actions on Wednesday.
“When you encourage consumption by inhibiting your interest rates from rising to their equilibrium level, you will in fact buy problems, and we have, in fact, bought problems,” said Hoenig, who is due to retire on October 1, in his last speech in office.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer, Pedro da Costa and David Lawder in Washington; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)

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RIYADH, Saudi Arab (AP) — Saudi King Abdullah has overturned a court ruling sentencing a Saudi woman to be lashed 10 times for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, a government official said Wednesday.
The official declined to elaborate on the monarch’s decision, and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
A Saudi court on Tuesday found Shaima Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban, and sentenced her to 10 lashes. The verdict took Saudi women by surprise, coming just a day after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.
The harsh sentence marked the first time a legal punishment had been handed down since female activists began their campaign in June to break the taboo in this ultraconservative Muslim nation.
There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.
Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

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Anti-regime protesters shout slogans as they march during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital, Sana’a on September 28, 2011.
Tens of thousands of Yemeni protesters have once again held demonstrations across the country, demanding the ouster of Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, Press TV reports.
The protesters took to the streets in the capital Sana’a as well as the southern and southwestern cities of Taizz, Al Hudaydah, and Ibb on Wednesday, venting their anger at Saleh’s surprise return from Saudi Arabia to Yemen last week, a Press TV correspondent reported.
In Sana’a, the regime forces prevented the demonstrators from marching on government offices and buildings.
The outraged public rallied in the capital’s Change Square, waving flags, flashing peace signs, and shouting slogans against the regime and its foreign backers.
Earlier in the day, pro-democracy tribesmen reportedly shot down a regime warplane that was bombing their positions in the north of Sana’a.
A Yemeni official confirmed the downing of the plane in the district of Arhab, adding that anti-regime fighters had been behind the shooting, while a tribesman said the pilot was in the tribesmen’s custody.
The impoverished country has been rocked since January by near-daily mass protests demanding the removal of the regime as well as an end to corruption and unemployment.
Some 40 percent of the Yemen’s population live on USD 2 a day or less and a third are wrestling with chronic hunger.
Saleh returned to the country from Saudi Arabia on Friday, having stayed in the kingdom since a June rocket attack on the presidential palace that inflicted serious injury on him and other senior officials.
Hundreds of people have been killed so far during a regime-ordered crackdown on the anti-government protests. More than 170 people, most of them unarmed protesters, have lost their lives in the suppressive campaign in the capital since last Sunday.

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Saudi Arabia is generally associated with the idea of a closed society, eager to preserve its own traditions from external cultural influences. For different reasons, Western countries too are starting to suffer from fear of cultural contamination. However, even in such peculiar context, it is possible to find personalities like Architect Sami Angawi who try to reassert the importance of enhancing the common cultural heritage shared by western and Islamic societies and the risks of a theoretical construct based on the “clash of civilizations.”
The concept of balance, known in Arabic as “Mizan,” is the essence of Islamic tradition and of many religious beliefs. The aspiration of Angawi to reflect this principle in his life and works has spontaneously generated in him a multicultural approach to reality: “You have to see things from different perspectives to reach balance and refuse the idea of conflict as predestination. You cannot use a one-sided scale.”
Angawi is former director of the Haj Research Center and founder of the Amar Center for Architectural Heritage. He has dedicated his life to preserve the history and architecture of Islam’s holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, encouraging dialogue about Islam and cross-cultural understanding. The region where he comes from, the Hijaz, contributed to form his religious thought and accustomed him to cultural and ethnic diversity: “Hijaz is the site of Islam’s holy places and the melting pot of the Muslim world. Pilgrims from all over the world have traveled for centuries to the region, enriching it with their traditions and ideas.”
Placed in the city of Jeddah, a gateway to Makkah and Madinah, the Angawi family home, better known as Al-Makkiah, represents today a main center for Saudi Arabia’s restricted artistic and social landscape. An environment where local and foreign artists, businessmen, diplomats and politicians can meet, thanks to the organization of weekly cultural events. The house is an ideal location for the arrangement of seminars, lectures, exhibitions and concerts and has hosted various dignitaries including two visits by former US President Jimmy Carter.
Not only the function, but also the architecture of Angawi’s villa, is a reflection of the idea of balancing dualities and finding unity in diversity. The house is a mixture of architectural styles from Syria, Iraq, Persia, Turkey and North Africa. The fusion of styles is enriched by a combination of modern construction techniques and traditional crafts, thus maintaining a link with ancient Islamic folklore: “More balance can be achieved through respect for the past,” Angawi said. “In Al-Makkiah, modernity and tradition, privacy and openness, stability and dynamism are equally represented to generate harmony.”
Meeting him in his characteristic villa was an occasion to know more of his future projects but also to have his opinion about political instability in the Middle East and its Islamophobic repercussions on Western societies.
“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul. For the last hundred years, people in the Middle East have been deprived of the oxygen.” According to Angawi, the real problem of our era is not cultural but has to do with the access to resources, to modernity and its instruments: “The West and Islam are victims of reciprocal prejudices and cultural stereotypes, which are very dangerous for the indirect legitimation they provide to choices of foreign politics.”
“Concepts of democracy and human rights should be cleansed of strategic exploitations,” he added. “Respect, solidarity and compassion are human values and inspiring principles for every culture and religion. Being aware of these intrinsic similarities and stressing them is the only antidote to fear and ignorance.”
Far from following rhetorical idealism, Angawi has transformed his own house into a model of multiculturalism and has plenty of concrete ideas. Currently, he is hosting an exhibition in Naseef House dedicated to men and women who have been peace promoters throughout the ages. The exhibition, supports the launch of a scouting project, the ‘Messangers of Peace’ initiative, sponsored by the Minister of Education Prince Faisal bin Abdullah. “My hope is that the arrival of these young messengers of love could be a good omen to set up a permanent ‘Messengers of Peace’ exhibition in Naseef House and nearby Al-Makkiah,” Angawi said. “This could be the starting point to materialize the challenging idea of an itinerant exhibition.”
Angawi always tries to involve wise politicians and diplomats in his projects: “The role of governments is very important. They should encourage the private sector to subsidize us.” Funds would allow the creation of an international Institution where different cultures could be represented thanks to designers, architects and musicians coming from all over the world.
Angawi has his own idea of how the ideal globalization should work. An international network of cultural centers constructively exploiting all the opportunities offered by new medias: “We shouldn’t move toward a homogenization, but an interpenetration of cultures.” In perfect accordance with the principle of balance, he likes to adopt the anthropological term of “glocalization,” which deals with preserving the uniqueness of traditions while remaining open to reciprocal enrichment.
“Al-Makkiah represents a seed,” concluded Angawi. “I wish that one day we could have thousands Makkiahs and establish a United Nations of people, regardless of race, color or beliefs.” Whenever he perceives the challenge is utopian, he tries to find inspiration in water: “It is a powerful element, stronger than rocks, steel and diamonds. If it doesn’t reach the sea, water changes its status and comes back in other forms to achieve the goal.”

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Ian Campbell

RIYADH: The Kingdom has responded to rising diabetes rates by organizing health awareness programs to keep it under control, a leading doctor specializing in the disease said on Tuesday.

Ian Campbell is currently delivering a series of lectures on diabetes in major Saudi cities. The prevalence of diabetes has reached an alarming rate of 20 percent of the Saudi population, five times higher than in the UK, Campbell said.
Type 1 diabetes is insulin-dependent and unpreventable. However, Type 2 diabetes is found among 90 percent of sufferers in Saudi Arabia. This happens when a person’s body fails to secrete adequate insulin and it is manageable, he said. Campbell, an Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the Bute School of Medicine at St. Andrews University, was participating in a round table discussion in Riyadh on Tuesday.
Campbell, who has authored several hundred articles and textbooks on the management of diabetes and its complications, had delivered the Arnold Bloom lecture in 2002 entitled “A diabetic odyssey from research to guidelines.” “Saudis are diagnosed with diabetes at an early age of 30, as compared to 40 years elsewhere in the world,” he said, adding that the Ministry of Health has responded positively by organizing various health awareness programs throughout the Kingdom.
“In Jeddah alone, I met 145 educators of diabetes who are involved in the awareness program.” Campbell commended the Saudi government for its efforts to control the growing number of diabetics in the Kingdom. He said the Kingdom has been engaged in a number of related education programs not only for the public, but is also training medics and paramedics on how to deal with the diabetics.
Describing diabetes as a silent killer, he said obesity, lack of physical exercise and a family history of diabetes contribute a great deal to the development of the disease.
He also stressed that family support is imperative for patients who suffer from diabetes. He said diabetes is a friendly disease if properly treated, but becomes dangerous when neglected.

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RIYADH: Candidates contesting municipal elections expressed their displeasure Wednesday over stringent campaigning regulations, which they said had been the main hurdle in reaching out to voters.
“This will possibly affect voter turnout at polling stations across the country on Thursday,” said Ahmed Khaled Oraifi, a candidate from a municipal constituency of Jeddah.
Oraifi said the candidates were not allowed to appear on TV or use radio for their campaigning.
“Voters who watch a lot of TV but aren’t well versed on the issues are most likely to be influenced by the physical appearance of political candidates,” said Oraifi. “How can we reach the voters in a closed society like the Kingdom, when we were only given their names with no contact details?”
Saudi Arabia is holding nationwide elections for its 285 municipal councils today (Thursday). The elections are the focus of intense interest at home and abroad.
Candidates were only allowed to buy advertising space in newspapers, erect billboards and use a few online tools, but spending on hospitality to canvass votes was subject to a spending cap. About 1.2 million men have been registered to vote in the municipal elections. Polling will take place from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Referring to the problems faced by the candidates in canvassing voters during the campaigning period that ended Wednesday, Ahmed said the Election Commission restricted marketing tools that would have increased voter participation.
He said political endorsements by celebrities, local newspapers and religious leaders will exert little influence on the decisions of voters in Saudi Arabia, especially this year.
Abdulaziz J. Al-Hussain, a candidate from Dammam, pointed out that the Election Commission failed to organize any orientation session or educate candidates about the rules and regulations in advance.
“This led to the disqualification of about 40 candidates in the Eastern Province alone,” Al-Hussain added. He, however, welcomed the overall initiative of holding elections and the announcement by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah allowing women to vote and contest in the next elections.
Asked about other grievances, Saud A. Alammar, a candidate running from Riyadh, said a number of candidates had used online forums and SMS text to promote themselves.
“We were not allowed to use other media tools like TV and I must tell you that only 20 percent or even fewer people read newspapers,” said another Riyadh candidate. Abdulaziz bin Nasser Alsoryai, who is contesting in Jeddah, said the voter turnout is likely to be lower because of these problems.
“But, we expect quality voting, which means more educated people will come and cast their votes this year,” said Alsoryai, adding that a voter will be allowed to vote for only one candidate. He also pointed out that there was no favored list of candidates like a list of Islamists or moderates as the case in the past. He said that this is a good start, which symbolizes the participation of Saudi citizens in the political process of the Kingdom.
“There is great enthusiasm among candidates and voters as well after the Shoura speech of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah,” said Mohammed Obaid Al-Johani, a candidate in Madinah.

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks edged higher and a rally in the euro stalled on Wednesday, as investors looked for more signs that European leaders were tackling a debt crisis that threatens the financial system before committing bolder market bets.
Oil and metals fell and the dollar rose as a rebound in riskier assets ran out of steam and money managers sought safety in the U.S. currency amid signs that a deal on beefing up the euro zone’s rescue fund still faced major hurdles.
“Investors think, isn’t the European situation better? But we have no way of knowing for sure at this point, and until they’re more confident, we probably won’t see major buying,” said Hiroichi Nishi, equity division manager at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc in Tokyo.
Plans to increase the financial firepower of the euro zone’s 440 billion euro rescue fund face opposition in Germany, while a Financial Times report said that a split had opened up within the currency bloc over the terms of Greece’s next bailout.
Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.2 percent, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.1 percent. The tech sector was the best performer in the MSCI index, with the defensive telecoms and utilities sectors performing worst.
U.S. stocks rose a little more than 1 percent on Tuesday, with a sharp pullback late in the session from stronger gains underlining the fragility of sentiment. S&P 500 futures traded in Asia fell 0.5 percent, pointing to a weaker start on Wall Street later.
Turbulence on global markets since late July has been driven by investors’ twin fears of renewed recession in the United States and the chaos that Europe’s sovereign debt crisis could inflict on the financial system if it continues unchecked.
Expectations have risen among market economists that Greece will be forced soon to default on its massive debts, with uncertain consequences for both the exposed European banking sector and other struggling euro zone nations.
There is also concern that, while Europe’s rescue vehicle has been able to cope with bailing out Greece, Portugal and Ireland, its resources would be overwhelmed if a bigger nation such as Italy or Spain were to need help.
The euro was little changed around $1.3575, having climbed as far as $1.3665 on Tuesday amid reports that euro zone policymakers were looking at ways of leveraging the rescue fund to boost its available funds.
The single currency has still lost 5.5 percent so far this month but is off an eight-month low of $1.3360 hit on Monday.
Currency strategists at RBS lowered their forecast for the euro through to the end of 2012, citing expectations of an interest rate cut by the European Central Bank next month that would narrow the single currency’s yield advantage.
The yen rose as Japanese exporters sold dollars and euros ahead of the quarter-end and Japan’s financial half-year. Traders also cited euro selling by Japanese investors repatriating proceeds gained from coupon payments on their foreign bond holdings.
The euro fell 0.4 percent against the yen to around 103.82, while the Japanese currency made similar gains against the dollar to about 76.48.
The dollar, which along with U.S. Treasuries has supplanted gold in recent weeks as the asset of choice for safe haven seekers, rose 0.4 percent against a basket of currencies
The firmer dollar hit commodities priced in the U.S. currency, with U.S. crude oil futures falling 1.4 percent to $83.23 a barrel and Brent crude dipping 0.8 percent to $106.32.
Copper slid 2 percent to $7,430 a tonne, while gold fell 0.5 percent to around $1,640 an ounce.
Credit market players reported improved sentiment, despite a slight widening of spreads on iTraxx’s benchmark Asia ex-Japan investment grade corporate bond index.
Japanese government bonds, which have been boosted in recent weeks by their safe-haven appeal, were flat, with some investors taking profits after the benchmark 10-year yield — steady on the day at 1 percent — fell as low as 0.965 last week.
“Investors say they have never had a good time buying 10-year bonds below 1 percent,” said Koji Ochiai, chief market economist at Mizuho Investors Securities.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Twaronite in Tokyo and Cecile Lefort in Sydney; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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CAIRO (AP) — A Saudi woman was sentenced Tuesday to be lashed 10 times with a whip for defying the kingdom’s prohibition on female drivers, the first time a legal punishment has been handed down for a violation of the longtime ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.
Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.
Making Tuesday’s sentence all the more upsetting to activists is that it came just two days after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.
The mixed signals highlight the challenge for Abdullah, known as a reformer, in pushing gently for change without antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.
Abdullah said he had the backing of the official clerical council. But activists saw Tuesday’s sentencing as a retaliation of sorts from the hard-line Saudi religious establishment that controls the courts and oversees the intrusive religious police.
“Our king doesn’t deserve that,” said Sohila Zein el-Abydeen, a prominent female member of the governmental National Society for Human Rights. She burst into tears in a phone interview and said, “The verdict is shocking to me, but we were expecting this kind of reaction.”
The driver, Shaima Jastaina, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission, activist Samar Badawi said. The punishment is usually carried out within a month. It was not possible to reach Jastaina, but Badawi, in touch with Jastaina’s family, said she appealed the verdict.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.
Activists say the religious justification is irrelevant.
“How come women get flogged for driving while the maximum penalty for a traffic violation is a fine, not lashes?” Zein el-Abydeen said. “Even the Prophet (Muhammad’s) wives were riding camels and horses because these were the only means of transportation.”
Since June, dozens of women have led a campaign to try to break the taboo and impose a new status quo. The campaign’s founder, Manal al-Sherif, who posted a video of herself driving on Facebook, was detained for more than 10 days. She was released after signing a pledge not to drive or speak to media.
Since then, women have been appearing in the streets driving their cars once or twice a week.
Until Tuesday, none had been sentenced by the courts. But recently, several women have been summoned for questioning by the prosecutor general and referred to trial.
One of them, housewife Najalaa al-Harriri, drove only two times, not out of defiance, but out of need, she says.
“I don’t have a driver. I needed to drop my son off at school and pick up my daughter from work,” she said over the phone from the western port city of Jeddah.
“The day the king gave his speech, I was sitting at the prosecutor’s office and was asked why I needed to drive, how many times I drove and where,” she said. She is to stand trial in a month.
After the king’s announcement about voting rights for women, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdel Aziz Al Sheik blessed the move and said, “It’s for women’s good.”
Al-Harriri, who is one of the founders of a women’s rights campaign called “My Right My Dignity,” said, “It is strange that I was questioned at a time the mufti himself blessed the king’s move.”
Asked if the sentencing will stop women from driving, Maha al-Qahtani, another female activist, said, “This is our right, whether they like it or not.”

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Saudi Prince Sultan bin Naser Al-Farhan Al-Saud is seeking to buy a majority stake in financially-troubled Greek Super League club Panathinaikos, a representative of the prince said here on Tuesday.
Vlassis Tsakas told Athens radio NovaSport FM that the prince will be coming to Greece next week to close the deal.
Tsakas released a letter to the press Tuesday from the 26-year-old prince, owner of one of the biggest construction firms in Saudi Arabia, stating his interest in a 54.7 percent stake in Panathinaikos.
“I ask for the understanding of all people involved and especially of the millions of Panathinaikos fans for probable delays in this process caused by issues unrelated to our programme. We come with the best intentions for Panathinaikos and Greece in general,” the prince was quoted in saying in the letter.
The proposal by the Saudi prince calls for an investment of 220 million euros in Panathinaikos, including a 150 million euros project for the construction of a new 48,000-seat stadium for the club to be completed by the prince’s own company.

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The British government has voiced opposition to the Palestinians’ statehood bid at the UN Security Council when it convenes a meeting Wednesday to discuss the request.
“While we support the principle of Palestinian statehood, we know that only a negotiated settlement can create a viable Palestinian state,” Foreign Secretary William Hague was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph.
“No resolution at the UN can substitute for the political will necessary if both sides are to come to the negotiating table”, added the Foreign Secretary.
The Security Council will meet Wednesday to start the process of formally considering the Palestinian request for membership in the world body, the council’s president has said.
Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam, who holds this month’s rotating presidency of the council, made a brief statement before reporters on Monday, saying that the council decided to take up a decision on referring the issue for further consideration two days hence.
The Security Council begins consultations Wednesday on Palestine’s application for full membership of the world body, although a vote on the historic bid is not expected for weeks.
The United States, a staunch Israeli regime’s ally and one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council has also threatened to veto the Palestinians’ legitimate application to have a viable, sovereign state.
For the vote to pass, the Palestinians need the support of nine out of the 15 members of the Security Council.
Six members including Russia, China, two permanent members along with four non-permanent members India, Brazil, South Africa, and Lebanon have already thrown their weight behind the bid.
Colombia has said it will abstain, while other members including Germany, Nigeria, Bosnia, Portugal and Gabon have not revealed their decision. Britain and France, two other permanent members, are also expected to give ‘nigh’ to the Palestinians’ statehood bid.
Britain, which has been forced to choose yet again between Europe and the US, has also rejected a French compromise plan that would have seen Palestine granted the same non-member status as the Vatican.
The UK government, as the Mandate power in Palestine for 25 years, had an obligation to create and foster self-governing institutions in the land it contributed a lot to its occupation.
Now, more than half a century later, supporting the Palestinians’ aspiration to statehood at the UN was the very least Britain could do, analysts believe.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said there would be a “profound sense of disappointment” unless there was a positive approach to Palestinian statehood.
Jack Straw, former foreign secretary, has thrown his weight behind the move, writing to all British MPs demanding they support the argument for Palestinian statehood now.
A new opinion poll has also showed that a majority of people in Britain, France and Germany want their leaders to vote in favor of a UN resolution to support recognition of a Palestinian state.
The survey, which was carried out online by YouGov in Britain and Germany, and Ifop in France, showed that in Germany 84 percent supported Palestinian statehood and 76 percent believed Germany should act now to recognize; in the UK the figures were 71 percent and 59 percent; and in France the figures were 82 percent and 69 percent respectively.
Palestinian Authority chief, Mahmud Abbas, formally asked the United Nations on Friday to admit Palestine as a full member state, handing over a formal application to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
The Palestinians say that Israeli regime has already annexed al-Quds and has been stealing their lands for the past 20 years, in addition to the lands it occupied with the help of its Western allies.
Since it occupied the West Bank in 1967, the Israeli regime has built more than 130 settlements across the territory, which are home to more than 300,000 residents. Another 200,000 people live in settlement neighborhoods in the occupied East al-Quds.
Figures show the majority of West Bank settlers live in eight large settlements which Israel wants to annex in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.
The illegitimate regime considers both sectors of occupied al-Quds to be its “eternal, indivisible” capital and does not view construction in the east to be settlement activity.
This is while that the Palestinians believe East al-Quds should be the capital of their future state.

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Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has urged the United Nations to accept the Palestinians’ request for full membership in the international body and recognize it as an independent state. It also called for restricting the veto power of permanent Security Council members to help it play an effective role in reinforcing world peace and stability.
“As a result of the continued Israeli intransigence and disruption of the peace process, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia calls upon all member states of the UN to recognize the State of Palestine on the borders of June 4, 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital; and to grant it full membership of the United Nations,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said Monday.
The UN Security Council is meeting on Wednesday to hand the issue to a committee that will review and assess the Palestinian application.
The prince’s comments come after the US pledged to veto the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.
In a written statement distributed among delegates attending the UN General Assembly sessions in New York, a copy of which was obtained by Arab News, Prince Saud also touched on the Kingdom’s views on UN reforms.
“One of the important reforms should be restricting the use of the veto power through a commitment from permanent members not to use it toward actions that are intended for the implementation of already adopted resolutions of the Security Council,” he said.
Prince Saud further elaborated on the reform issue.
“We are of the view that real reform requires giving the General Assembly a key role in maintaining international peace and security. Moreover, my country believed and still believes that the ultimate goal for any restructuring of the Security Council should be strengthening its capabilities in order to effectively play its role in accordance with the UN Charter,” he said.
The Kingdom urged the UN to avoid double standard and ensure its credibility and seriousness through respecting the principles of international legitimacy, the provisions of international law and the requirements of international justice.
On the topic of the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements across the Middle East and North Africa, Prince Saud reiterated Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of military operations against the defenseless people in Syria.
He also called on “all parties in brotherly Yemen to clearly announce their full commitment to implement the peaceful transition of power as stipulated in the GCC initiative in order to swiftly end the serious Yemeni crisis.”
Prince Saud’s statement focused the Arab-Israeli conflict that still predominates and overshadows all issues of the Middle East.
“No other regional conflict is more influential upon world peace. What exacerbates the problem is the absence of the Israeli government’s good intentions. It still proceeds with the acquisition of more Palestinian land, still builds settlements to create facts on ground and still continues the killing and displacement of Palestinians and confiscation of their land and properties,” he said.
Prince Saud said the continuing construction of Israeli homes in occupied Arab territories would undermine the possibility of creating a contiguous and viable Palestinian state, making it difficult for any Palestinian government to function effectively.
“It is unethical to impose siege and sanctions on people suffering under occupation, while the occupying authority continues its settlement activities free from any accountability and in defiance of Geneva Conventions.”
The Saudi minister blamed Israel for the failure of peace talks.
“The time has come for Israel to know that it cannot proceed with ignoring international legitimacy emanating from international law. Yet, states in the Security Council, including permanent members, have unanimously and repeatedly issued statements against the continuation of Israeli settlement activities.”
He said Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have expressed their desire for peace with Israel through the Arab Peace Initiative, which was adopted by the Beirut Arab Summit in 2004.
“However, we were not met by any reciprocal commitment from Israel. It is crucial that the international community takes a clear position that reflects its consensus on taking concrete actions to revive the peace process,” the prince said.
He said Israel should immediately cease settlement construction and recognize the right of Palestinians to establish an independent state on the borders of June 4, 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital as well as reaching an equitable solution to the refugee’s issue in accordance with international resolutions.
The Kingdom also blasted the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
“The situation in the besieged Gaza Strip is another factor that exacerbates the problem as Gaza became a huge prison due to the unjust blockade imposed by Israel that causes grave humanitarian consequences. Furthermore, Israeli occupying forces continued atrocious military attacks against the Palestinian people which demonstrate that Israel, by committing these aggressions and repeated transgressions, is a state above the law,” he added.
Prince Saud said Tel Aviv was taking advantage of the international community’s silence and negligence toward Israeli war crimes.
“We urge the United Nations, particularly the Security Council and the Quartet, to assume their responsibilities to stop the persistent Israeli aggression, to work on providing international protection for the unarmed Palestinian people in Gaza, to end the Israeli blockade and open the crossings from and to the Gaza strip.”
He said Arabs were looking for a comprehensive peace settlement.
“It will not be achieved without the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories, including Golan and Lebanese territories. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia calls upon the Security Council to act without delay to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East as provided in Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and all relevant UN resolutions and decisions of Madrid Conference, in particular the principle of ‘Land for Peace’ as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Prince Saud also referred to the Kingdom’s efforts in alleviating the suffering of the victims of natural disasters and fighting poverty and diseases.
He said Saudi Arabia’s foreign aid during the past three decades amounted to $100 billion which benefited more than 90 developing countries. In the sphere of debt relief, Saudi Arabia waived about $6 billion of debts owed by the least developed countries.
The Kingdom also fulfilled its full share in the Debt Relief Initiative Fund of the International Monetary Fund.
“The urgent issues facing the world such as climate change, food security and rising commodity prices require the joint cooperation of international community with all its components in order to find equitable solutions that take everyone’s interests into consideration,” the prince said.
During the OPEC Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia made a contribution of $300 million to establish a special fund for research on energy, environment and climate change.
In addition, the Kingdom contributed $500 million for the World Food Program to offset the rising food prices, which helped 62 developing countries around the globe, he explained.
Prince Saud denounced the move by some parties to link Islam and Muslims with terrorism.
“There is grave injustice committed against Islam when some people tend to brush it with terrorism, while this religion calls for tolerance, coexistence and applying its principles to achieve its objectives,” he said and emphasized Saudi Arabia’s efforts to combat terrorism. The Kingdom signed an agreement last week to establish the UN Center for Counterterrorism.
The foreign minister also noted the Kingdom’s efforts to promote cultural and interfaith dialogue.
“We are required to forge serious cooperation, under the umbrella of the United Nations, to create a healthy environment to promote the values of dialogue, tolerance and moderation; and to build cooperation and peace relationships between cultures, peoples and nations.
Based on our keenness to achieve these noble objectives, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah initiated the launch of his sincere and comprehensive approach to dialogue between all followers of religions and cultures,” he said.
Saudi Arabia is working, in cooperation with Austria and Spain, on establishing the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Center for Dialogue in Vienna.
In his concluding remarks, Prince Saud reiterated the Kingdom’s support to the United Nations and multilateral international system.
“Our international community is in dire need of unity and synergy in order to develop equitable solutions to aggravated international problems,” he said.

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A specialist works at the New York Stock Exchange. (AP)
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is likely to keep a long-standing peg between the riyal and the dollar despite recent weakening of the US currency and fears that this could fuel inflation, according to regional economists and market analysts.
They also cautioned that a stronger riyal might deter new investments in the Kingdom.
Commodities are priced in the US currency and its weakness in recent years has helped boost demand from investors in other currencies. The US is also a key market for Gulf oil producers.
Divergent views about exchange rates and inflation in Gulf countries have appeared in regional media since the Swiss National Bank shocked markets early this month with its decision to peg the franc to the euro and to buy unlimited amounts of foreign currencies to curb its appreciation.
Some business travelers and decision-makers in the region have also been suggesting that Kuwait’s decision in 2007 to peg the dinar to a basket of currencies might have helped the Gulf state to shield its economy from the dollar’s fluctuation.
But Paul Gamble, head of research at the Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment, told Arab News that Kuwait’s record of fighting inflation “has been no better than Saudi Arabia’s in recent years.”
Kuwait’s currency is still very closely linked to the dollar, he pointed out.
Five of the GCC states peg their currencies to the dollar while Kuwait pegs its dinar to a basket of currencies.
According to fresh data from Kuwait’s Finance Ministry, the country’s budget surplus stood at 4.2 billion dinars ($15.3 billion) in the first two months of its 2011/12 fiscal year, larger than a year ago on higher-than-projected oil revenue and lower spending.
Reuters reported recently that Kuwait’s annual inflation eased to an 11-month low of 4.6 percent in July and edged up only slightly from the month before on higher food and transport prices. Analysts quoted by the news agency said they expect price pressures to stay muted in Kuwait.
A Jeddah-based economist said that Kuwait had actually paid for its basket in terms of less liquidity.
“The Saudi and other pegs are simpler, more transparent and easier for markets to work with,” said Jarmo T. Kotilaine, chief economist at Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank (NCB).
He pointed out that weaker dollar will drive imported inflation when imports are denominated in currencies other than dollars.
He added: “It is not clear that de-pegging from the dollar would help much in containing inflationary pressures, especially since the only conceivable intermediate step would probably be a Kuwaiti-style basket which would still be heavily dollar-dominated.”
Kotilaine said the ability of the euro to protect from inflation is questionable in view of its own structural challenges.
“Even the yen faces longer-term risks while the emerging market currencies are still not true trading currencies,” he pointed out.
“Under the circumstances, not much is likely to be gained from switching away from the dollar pegs and a lot would be lost in terms of reduced transparency and efficiency, as well as policy consistency and credibility,” Kotilaine said.
Commenting further on the currency debate, Gamble of Jadwa hinted that de-pegging the riyal would probably push inflation lower over the short term.
He said a fully floating riyal would be an attractive currency for foreign exchange traders — so large inflows would cause the riyal to strengthen, lowering the cost of imported goods.
“However, it would also undermine the non-oil economy and introduce much greater volatility, which would deter investment,” cautioned Gamble.
“If the peg was adjusted so that the riyal is strengthened against the dollar there would be a one-time fall in inflation owing to lower import costs, but this move would have many negative impacts elsewhere in the economy,” Gamble said.
Ultimately, he said the exchange rate is not an appropriate tool to tackle inflation and it would probably have little impact on it.
As market observers analyzed the emerging market trends, Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) Gov. Muhammad Al-Jasser reiterated earlier the determination of Gulf states to forge ahead with their plans for a single currency despite the global debt crisis.
“I have heard doubts (expressed about the single currency) only in the media. It is untrue,” Al-Jasser said following a meeting of regional central bank governors in Doha.
His remarks came in the wake of mounting concerns over the health of the world’s largest economy, the US.
Financial markets declined in recent weeks as investors grew increasingly unnerved by the ability of euro zone leaders to solve the debt crisis that has engulfed Greece, Portugal and Ireland and now threatens Italy and Spain.
Many US indicators also point to stalling growth.
But Gamble said there had been no impact from the economic troubles in the US and Europe on the Kingdom’s currency peg.
Reacting to money market developments, Khan H. Zahid, vice president and chief economist at Riyad Capital, said: “A euro zone debt crisis would most likely lower the euro’s value against the dollar and thus against the riyal, and that may also hurt euro zone imports from the Kingdom.”
Estimates from ratings agencies and the IMF suggest that this year’s inflation rate in the Kingdom could be in the range of 5.5 percent to six percent, up from 5.3 percent in 2010.
Recent government data showed that annual inflation eased to 4.8 percent in August and monthly price growth halved to 0.5 percent as a rise in housing and transport costs subsided.
Inflation in the Gulf is expected to creep higher this year on robust global commodity prices, a weak dollar and increased government spending, Reuters reported.
Commenting on consumer concerns about possible price increases and higher living costs amid global economic uncertainty, Gamble explained that there was no domestic pressure on the value of the riyal. Inflation is being driven by a combination of factors, he pointed out.
“Rents are one of the main source of inflation, caused by a shortage of accommodation, a rapidly growing population and a reduction in the average household size. International commodity prices, particularly for foodstuffs, some construction materials and precious metals are the other main source of inflation. Given the size of government and consumer spending this year, the lack of other inflationary pressures is notable,” Gamble said.
“The global debt problems have not had much impact on inflation in the Kingdom. By causing the global economy to slow, they have pulled down commodity prices and so reduced inflationary pressure,” he added.
Gamble said the dollar is still regarded as a safe haven despite the credit rating downgrade and this has also put downward pressure on inflation.
“Equity markets have fallen owing to the link of many leading companies to international commodities and their reliance on exports, in addition to the negative impact on investor psychology,” he said.
Global shares rose strongly Tuesday on growing hopes that eurozone leaders and the International Monetary Fund will agree a comprehensive package to solve the debt crisis.
Rob Subbaraman, Nomura’s chief Asia economist based in Hong Kong, said earlier that China was likely to speed up use of the yuan beyond its borders if the euro broke up.
And because the euro zone’s problems are likely to reduce Europe’s long-term growth potential, Asian companies will have an extra incentive to invest more in their own region and in other emerging markets, he said in remarks published in a Reuters report.
In a sign of things to come, India recently relaxed its overseas borrowing rules allowing firms to raise Chinese yuan-denominated debt and raising the borrowing limit for companies in an attempt to woo capital inflows amid heightened global uncertainty.

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RIYADH: More than 10,000 people including 1,700 Saudi lawyers, Saudi officials and delegates representing various NGOs will monitor municipal elections on Thursday to assure compliance with voting laws and prevent discrimination or disenfranchisement.
“The government officials have already been asked to proceed to the polling booths across the Kingdom,” said an official of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs in Riyadh.
“Pre-election monitoring is continuing, while all necessary measures have been taken to ensure smooth polling on Sept. 29,” said the official, on condition of anonymity.
“A number of nongovernment organizations have been involved to supervise the poll process,” said Tarek Al-Qasabi, a member of the Riyadh municipality who was elected in the 2005 polls.
He expressed hope that the election would be held in a “joyful, peaceful and fair manner.”
A total of 5,323 men are competing in the upcoming municipal elections for 816 seats in 285 municipal councils spread across the Kingdom.
The municipal councils will be formally created in October and will have a term of four years, said Al-Qasabi.
The voters will cast their ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 752 polling stations set up across the country. The turnout is expected to be high.
Referring to the role of lawyers in the entire poll process, a statement from the National Committee of Lawyers said: “The lawyers registered with the Ministry of Justice would monitor the poll in coordination with other government agencies.”
It added: “The lawyers, who are being sent to various locations in the Kingdom to supervise the poll and to ensure legal compliance, will submit their reports to the concerned authorities after the election.”
This is in addition to an executive panel for the election and an 11-member election commission headed by Abdul Rahman Al-Dahmash, which will be nodal points of contacts for all government agencies and NGOs. But, two premier organizations – the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) and the Saudi Journalists Association – have reportedly refused to play any role in the election this year.
The NSHR said in a report recently that it has decided not to monitor the poll in protest of the exclusion of women from voting and contesting this year.
All candidates in the fray, according to an earlier circular, will stop campaigning for votes by Wednesday. However, campaigning on social networking sites intensified on Monday, said Waleed K. Qutbi, a software engineer.
The elections, only the second in Saudi Arabia’s history, are for half of the seats in the Kingdom’s municipal councils. The government appoints the other half.
Riyadh, with 956 candidates and 54 voting centers, tops all regions in terms of the number of candidates and polling booths, while the eastern Al-Ahsa town is bottom with only 99 candidates.
As in the landmark elections for municipal council seats held in 2005, women are banned from participating in this year’s poll. However, they will be allowed to vote and contest municipal elections by 2015 as per the announcement of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on Sunday.
According to the electoral commission, more than 1.2 million Saudi men have been registered to vote this year. Municipal elections and chamber of commerce elections are the only forms of public vote in Saudi Arabia at the moment.
The Sept. 29 poll was originally scheduled for 2009, but in May that year, the Saudi government extended the existing council’s mandate by two years, delaying the vote.
It was noticed that the current election is not that popular, unlike the 2005 election, which was considered very hot since it was held for the first time.
Abed Al-Harbi, a 29-year-old Saudi, said he holds a voting card but is not going to cast his ballot because he believes it is useless.
He said many candidates gave golden promises before the last election but nothing changed after the poll.
Fellow citizen Khaled Al-Harthi, 32, said he decided not to vote for anyone because he did not see any improvement in the municipal services provided.
He said there is a lack of trust in the municipal council.
“I hope this time people will vote for the right choices, for those who are willing to change things. Sadly, most voters are giving their votes to those who will benefit them personally and not for the best candidate,” he added.
Adel Al-Qushairi, 26, said: “Let’s examine the achievements of the previous municipal council. What did they achieve since they were elected? Nothing. I am not keen on participating in the election this time because nothing is changing and the same problems exist. I think their role is supervisory and they do not hold any executive powers.”
— With input from Omar Muhammad

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(Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co is asking to move to federal court a lawsuit from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc accusing it of siphoning $8.6 billion from Lehman’s estate in the days leading up to its record bankruptcy.
In court papers filed late Monday, JPMorgan said the case, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, should be moved to federal court in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s contentious June ruling in former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith’s inheritance battle.
The case, Stern v. Marshall, pitted the late Smith against the estate of her deceased former husband J. Howard Marshall. The court ruled against Smith’s estate, saying bankruptcy courts lack authority to decide claims brought by a bankruptcy debtor against a creditor, unless the claims are fully rooted in bankruptcy law.
JPMorgan said in court papers Monday that Lehman’s 49-count complaint goes “above and beyond” bankruptcy law, including accusations of fraud, coercion and breach of contract.
Lehman defended the bankruptcy court’s jurisdiction, saying in a Monday court filing that the lawsuit’s allegations carry a bankruptcy context because they challenge JPMorgan’s original proofs of claim against Lehman.
The suit, filed in May 2010, accuses JPMorgan of illegally siphoning about $8.6 billion of desperately-needed assets in the days leading up to Lehman’s bankruptcy.
Lehman said JPMorgan, its main clearing bank, used “unparalleled access” to the details of its financial distress to extract the collateral, hastening its $639 billion bankruptcy, which remains the largest ever and was a major catalyst of the financial crisis.
JPMorgan countersued in December, saying Lehman stuck it with more than $25 billion in toxic loans that might never be repaid.
A spokeswoman and lawyer for Lehman did not respond to requests for comment Monday. An attorney and spokeswoman for JPMorgan were also not immediately available Monday night.
The scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Smith case has engendered frustration among bankruptcy judges, some of whom have expressed uncertainty as to whether the ruling could stunt their authority.
Judge Robert Drain, of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, said at the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Views from the Bench conference earlier this month that the ruling causes bankruptcy judges to “doubt their reason for being.”
Judge James Peck, who oversees Lehman’s dispute with JPMorgan, said at the conference that he believes the ruling will ultimately have “relatively limited” application in the day-to-day role of a bankruptcy judge.
But Peck added that the ruling has been “weaponized … on the theory that that which is not nailed down gets picked up.”
“This is an argument that is thrown at me in settings that I am confident that (Supreme Court Chief) Justice (John) Roberts never contemplated and would be horrified if he knew about,” Peck said at the conference.
Lehman’s case against JPMorgan is slated for trial in 2012.
The case is Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-ap-03266. The main bankruptcy case is In re: Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc in the same court, no. 08-13555.
(Reporting by Nick Brown, editing by Bernard Orr)

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MOSCOW (AP) — The departure of Russia’s influential finance minister and the impending power swap between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won’t have any immediate impact on Russia’s economic policies or its debt rating, Standard & Poor’s said Tuesday.
The U.S. ratings agency was one of the few calm voices that sought to play down the importance of the resignation of Alexei Kudrin, who has been Russia’s finance minister since 2000.
Investors and analysts warned that it would be hard to find a replacement who would be as effective in vehemently opposing the populist spending so beloved by politicians.
Kudrin was forced out Monday after a public spat with Medvedev after Kudrin refused to serve in any government if Medvedev was prime minister. Many suspect Kudrin had hoped himself to be named prime minister under Putin.
A darling of investors and post-Soviet Russia’s longest-serving finance minister, Kudrin was widely credited with softening the blow of the 2008-2009 global downturn in Russia with his conservative fiscal policies. During Putin’s presidency from 2000 to 2008, Kudrin set up a rainy day fund to stash some of the revenue from oil exports. The idea angered many in the government who sought higher spending, but ultimately proved to be an invaluable cushion.
S&P said in an emailed statement that recent days’ events would unlikely mean a “significant departure from current economic and fiscal policies.” The agency said it expects “Russian state capitalism and the close links between politics and business to remain unchanged.”
The agency, however, voiced concern that a government reshuffle could make it difficult for Russia to “consolidate public finances” and boost long-term growth by “improving the business environment, competition, and the productive infrastructure.”
Russia markets, buoyed by higher oil prices and surging stocks worldwide, seemingly paid no heed to the landmark resignation. The MICEX benchmark index was up 2.5 percent at 4 p.m. Moscow time (1200 GMT) and the ruble was 0.8 percent higher.
In another landmark reform under Kudrin, Russia introduced flat income tax and scrapped sales tax. The 50-year-old minister was also the driving force behind Russia’s efforts to pay off its international debts, reducing the country’s debt from equal to Russia’s annual GDP to zero.
Boosted by strong oil prices and Kudrin’s prudent fiscal policies, Russia did not run a single budget deficit from 2000 through 2008.
Despite the S&P statement, analysts warned that Russian financial policies will be affected since Kudrin’s authority in Russia is unparalleled.
Sergei Guriev, a prominent economist and rector of the New Economic School, told that Kudrin has three “unique qualities.”
“He’s a professional, he can defend his principles and he enjoys good relations with the prime minister,” Guriev said. “It’s going to be hard to find a person who would have all of these qualities.”

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BANGKOK (AP) — World stocks rebounded Tuesday as pledges by European officials to once and for all resolve the region’s debt problems helped soothe market jitters.
Oil prices rose above $82 per barrel while the dollar slipped against the euro and the yen.
European shares were sharply up in early trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 2.2 percent to 5,202.05 and Germany’s DAX jumped 3.2 percent to 5,517.02. France’s CAC-40 rose 2.9 percent to 2,943.36.
Wall Street, too, was set for a higher opening, with Dow Jones industrial futures advancing 1.1 percent to 11,095, while S&P 500 futures were 1.1 percent higher to 1,170.70.
The gains come on the heels of a strong trading in Asia.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 shot up 2.8 percent to close at 8,609.95, a day after shedding more than 2 percent and ending at its lowest level since April 2009. South Korea’s Kospi rallied 5 percent to 1,735.71. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 4.2 percent to 18,130.55. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index ended 3.4 percent higher at 4,004.60.
Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, mainland China, New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand were also higher. Stocks on main indexes in Malaysia and Vietnam fell.
Investor sentiment improved after European ministers told a meeting of global finance leaders in Washington over the weekend that they would take bolder and more decisive steps to pull Greece back from the brink of bankruptcy. The country has only enough money to last until mid-October.
Stressing the urgency of the situation, President Barack Obama on Monday called on Europe’s leadership to move quickly.
Financial stocks were buoyed by hopes that a plan was in the works to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debts — an event that might crush banks with significant holdings of the country’s bonds and cause domino-style defaults in other indebted countries such as Italy.
Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. gained 4.3 percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia Ltd., the nation’s largest lender, rose 3.9 percent. Hong Kong-listed shares of Agricultural Bank of China, the nation’s largest rural lender, jumped 8.7 percent.
But some traders remained skeptical, saying it was unrealistic to think that Europe would be willing or able to throw the amount of money needed to dig Greece out from under its staggering debt load.
“Some of these eurozone nations cannot be bailed out,” said Tey Tze Ming, a trader at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore. “There’s not enough cash to go around,” he said. “The European banks stand to take a lot of pain on their balance sheets, which is what all this nervousness is about.”
Ming said he believes the timing is now right to buy gold, which plunged $45 an ounce on Monday to settle below $1,600 for the first time since July.
“Our scenario is: the European crisis is going to become worse before anything. Gold as a safe haven should come back,” he said.
Energy shares were lifted by rising oil prices. PetroChina, the country’s biggest oil and gas company, rose 5.4 percent in Hong Kong. Japanese energy explorer Inpex Corp. gained 2 percent. Australia’s Woodside Petroleum was 3.6 percent higher.
On Monday, Wall Street saw its biggest gains in more than two weeks. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 272 points, or 2.5 percent, to close at 11,043.86 — the biggest gain since Sept. 7. The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 2.3 percent to 1,162.95. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.4 percent to 2,516.69.
Benchmark oil for November delivery rose $1.80 to $82.08 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 39 cents to finish at $80.24 per barrel Monday on the Nymex.
In currencies, euro rose to $1.3520 from $1.3472 late Monday in New York. The dollar fell to 76.40 yen from 76.49 yen.