News & Reports 2011-02-05

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Broadcasting Time: 07:00-08:00, GMT+08:00, 2011-02-05

Hello and Welcome to News and Reports on China Radio International.

In This Edition

Tens of thousands of protesters gather again in the Egyptian capital Cairo to stage a "day of departure" for President Hosni Mubarak.

The leaders of France and Germany say that the 17 countries that use the Euro need to improve their competitiveness to move beyond the debt crisis that has crippled the currency union over the past year.

The United Nations?? Food and Agricultural Organization says world food prices rose to a record high in January.

New Year celebrations continue in most parts in China as well as in China Towns overseas.

Hot Issue Reports

Egypt set for day of departure

Tens of thousands of protesters were gathering again in the Egyptian capital Cairo to stage a "day of departure" for President Hosni Mubarak.

Army presence in Tahrir Square has increased after days of unrest that has led to at least 10 people killed and hundreds other injured.

Many anti-Mubarak protesters are outraged by attempts to storm their barricades in the square.

"It's just like you see - bullets used against people standing holding stones. People who don't have any weapons, facing off against people who are firing at them."

Mubarak has said he would like to resign immediately but fears the country will descend into chaos if he does so.

Meanwhile, Vice President Omar Suleiman has signaled Mubarak's son will not run for the next Presidential election in September.

Suleiman also says the government will not use force to clear anti-Mubarak protests.

"We will call them.??We will not choose any violence against them, but we will ask them to go home, and we will ask their parents to ask them to come home."

Meantime, a US official reveals that talks are under way between the Obama administration and top Egyptian officials on the possible immediate resignation of Mubarak.

They are also discussing to set up a military-backed caretaker government that could prepare the country for free and fair elections later this year.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reiterated the demands that the Egyptian government and opposition representatives begin negotiations on a power transition.

"I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt's opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition."

Egyptian vice President Suleiman says the government has started speaking with the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt turmoil: EU leaders urge army to defuse violence in Egypt

As Egyptians brace themselves for a new anti-Mubarak rally, European Union leaders are warning the Egyptian government against new outbreaks of violence on the streets of Cairo.

The turmoil in Egypt dominated the agenda of the one-day EU summit held in Brussels.

EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton says she is supporting the national dialogue in Egypt put in place but warns against new outbreaks of violence.

"As you would expect we have been urging the continuation of support for people on the streets, to keep people safe, to make sure that the violence does not break out again, that the army plays its proper role and to urge him to continue in this move towards what we have called transition. But it is about change, is about moving, it is about responding."

British Prime Minister David Cameron says the Egyptian government needs to do more if it wants to convince the international community.

"The message is this: if we see on the streets of Cairo today state-sponsored violence or the hiring of thugs to beat up protesters, then Egypt and its regime would loose any remaining credibility or support it has in the eyes of the watching world including Britain."

EU leaders also discussed strengthening the euro zone's bailout fund and tried to agree how best to insulate the region from the year-long debt crisis.

Energy security has also been discussed, with the EU looking to decrease its dependence on Russian energy.

Belgium EU Summit

The leaders of France and Germany say that the 17 countries that use the Euro need to improve their competitiveness to move beyond the debt crisis that has crippled the currency union over the past year.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the remark in a joint statement in Brussels on Friday.

They believed that Euro zone states should work with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to decide by the end of March what points should be included in a so-called "pact for competitiveness".

"What we want to establish is a pact for competitiveness, and in so doing we want to make it very clear that we intend to grow together more closely on a political level, which is not to say that there should not be a competition for the best solution among the member states. But what it does mean is that we want to take the best practices as a benchmark, and in order to achieve that, we want to agree on particular measures."

The two leaders will present their plans to their Euro zone counterparts later on Friday, as part of a broader discussion over plans to overhaul the region's 440 (b) billion Euro, or 598 billion US dollars, bailout fund to make it more effective in stemming the crisis.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

"With Germany, we want to move onto a new stage and respond in a structural manner. This response means more integration of our economic policies with the aim of strengthening the competitiveness of our economies."

Earlier this week, German and French government officials suggested that the pact could include calls on countries to introduce "debt brakes" into their national constitutions, align retirement ages with life expectancy, get rid of automatic salary increases in line with inflation and create national bank resolution plans, and come up with a common base for corporate taxation.

Belgium and Luxembourg would have a hard time taking away automatic salary increases from their citizens, while the Irish - already feeling humiliated after being forced to take a 67.5 billion Euro bailout - are unlikely to make any concessions on their corporate tax rate, which is one of the lowest in Europe.

FAO: World food prices reach historic peak

According to the United Nations's Food and Agricultural Organization, world food prices rose to a record high in January.

The Food Price Index, which regularly checks monthly changes in global food prices, averaged its highest level last month since the records began in 1990.

It was up 3.4% from December. The individual group components of the index, like cereals, fats, dairy, and sugar, all registered rises in January. Only meat prices remained stable.

Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General, says it is the seventh monthly rise for the index.

"Since last June the FAO index of food prices has reported a tendency to increase, touching last month its highest peak, both in nominal and real terms."

The index is now higher than June 2008 when the cost of food sparked violent protests in countries including Cameroon, Haiti and Egypt.

However, FAO economist and grain expert Abdolreza Abbassian believes the situation is "moderately more comfortable" than the crisis of 2008, because of strong harvests.

During the 2008 crisis, the world's biggest rice producers curbed rice exports to protect domestic supply. The number of hungry then reached one billion.

This time around, rice, one of the world's most important staples, is priced 50 percent below last year's levels.

FAO Economist Abdolreza Abbassian says the real concern this time is the winter harvests in the northern hemisphere, in particular the United States, a large swathe of which has been hard hit by winter storms.

"We are now all dependant on what is going to happen to the crops in 2011 and one of the facts which is going to drive the production is the weather again. So that's why market is so vulnerable today and the situation is so uncertain: because nobody is going to bet on what production we're going to get in 2011 until they actually harvest it."

Meantime, the Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January, reflecting rises in the price of wheat and grain. This was lifted higher by flood disaster in Australia.

Cambodia-Thai troops exchange fire near border during talks

Cambodian and Thai troops have clashed near a disputed border temple just after their foreign ministers met to discuss border issues and pledged to avoid military clashes.

There are no immediate report of casualties in the clash, the latest in a long-festering dispute over the Preah Vihear temple.

The incident coincided with the visit of Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in Cambodia.

Piromya has met with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong to discuss issues including the fate of two Thai nationals charged with trespassing and spying.

The Thai foreign minister also planned to visit the two Thai nationals, saying the ministry's priority is to bring the two home, but would require Cambodia's cooperation.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

"Mr Kasit will visit the prisoners this afternoon. We assist him to visit the two prisoners in prison and this is the first step."

The two Thai nationals were among seven Thais arrested by Cambodian soldiers last December when they entered a disputed border area.

They have been given sentences of up to 8 years.

New Year holiday day 2: Beijing, Zhouqu, Chinatown

New Year celebrations continue in most parts in China as well as in China Towns overseas.

In Beijing, more than 650-thousand people visited Yonghegong Lama Temple to make their best wishes for the Year of the Rabbit.

Over in New York City's Chinatown, some 500-thousand firecrackers were lit up with a bang.

Hundreds of people gathered in Roosevelt Park to witness the annual event, now in its 12th year.

Most of the visitors are Chinese-Americans. They say the ceremony reminds them of their native country.

"I came from China. I feel happy to be here because it reminds me of when I was in China. New Year is the biggest holiday in China and by coming here I don't feel lonely."

For Aaron Cheng, who was born and raised in the United States, the celebration gives him a taste of what the Chinese culture is about.

"I liked how everybody is getting out to do something that is not for profit, like they are just doing it to entertain people and for the cultural importance of Chinese new year."

In Chinese zodiac, 2011 is the year of the rabbit. Twelve animals make up the Chinese zodiac, with each year having its own unique beliefs.

The rabbit is considered one of the happiest signs, with people born in that year renowned for their kindness, reliability and loyalty.

400 trillion yuan to boost China's water infrastructure

China will invest 4 trillion yuan, the largest sum ever, to boost its water infrastructure for the next ten years. Experts believe that building adequate water infrastructure has become an urgent issue, due to frequent floods and droughts.

Queensland battles cyclone debris; death toll low

Rain and gusts from a weakening cyclone are continuing to bluster across northeastern Australia while the country has begun counting the cost of the worst storm in a century.

Residents and volunteers in Queensland are now clearing streets of debris after Cyclone Yasi devastated the area.

Despite the scale of devastation and high economic costs expected, the death toll so far has been surprisingly low with only one man found dead.

But locals are still terrified by the powerful cyclone.

"It's like a movie set. It's unbelievable."

"Yes it's a bit devastating. Puts a chill down your spine to have a look around. So, yeah. But we'll all soldier on, I'm sure."

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told the communities she toured that military troops have been deployed to join the recovery.

"There are four thousand troops in total. We are here in Townsville, which is home to Lavarack Barracks. We have a large standing presence here in Townsville and in this region and so those four thousand soldiers are being able to assist during the cyclone recovery ??"

Cyclone Yasi has weakened into a tropical depression as it travels westward. The Bureau of Meteorology has cancelled an earlier cyclone warning.

Queensland has had a cruel summer, with floods sweeping across the region and other eastern states in recent months, killing 35 people and causing damage estimated at least $10 billion US dollars.

47th Munich Security Conference kicks off

The 47th Munich Conference on Security Policy has opened in Germany, bringing together 12 heads of states and governments and 36 foreign ministers to discuss major global security issues.

The annual meeting will focus on thorny issues such as the financial crisis, cyber war, transatlantic security, NATO-Russia relations, non-proliferation of mass destruction arms, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The security measures in central Munich and especially the area around the conference venue is immense. Wolfgang Wenger is the spokesman for the Munich police.

"We have about 3,400 police officers on duty over the weekend. We are securing the venue 'Bayrischer Hof' - there is a security zone around it -as well as the arrivals."

The police are also prepared for any demonstrations turning violent but they do not expect them to happen.

The event will last three days.

Textile Fashion week in Turkey

Istanbul's Fashion Week has opened with about thirty Turkish designers and brands on display in Turkey, the world's second largest textile producing nation, only next to China.

Textiles are one of the defining industries of Turkey, which employs 8 percent of the nation's workforce and is 20 percent of the country's total exports.

Ismail Gulle owns one of the largest textile firms in the country.

"Since 2010 we have stopped viewing China as a threat and instead have approached it as a market. Our exports to China have increased by 60 percent."

Turkey is combining its traditional facilities with its geographical location, conveniently close to Europe, Asia and the Middle East to deliver quality products faster.

Hikmet Tanriverdi is the president of an organisation of textile exporting firms.

"Turkey has adapted to producing and selling products at a rapid pace. And with the new formation of local brands, Turkey is expanding exports to the Russia and the Middle East."

Turkey still cannot challenge China on price but quality and speed are advantages that Turkish textile producers have against their Asian rivalry.