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Broadcasting Time: 07:00-08:00, GMT+08:00, 2012-01-15
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In This Edition
A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman killed more than 50 people and wounded scores of others in an attack that targeted Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says ratings downgrades in the Euro-zone by Standard & Poor's underlines the importance of a fiscal compact in ending Europe's debt crisis.
Hundreds of university students rallied in Tehran to protest Wednesday's assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist.
Two of China's giant pandas are to settle in their new home in France under a joint conservation and research programme.
Hot Issue Reports
Bomb Kills at Least 53 Pilgrims in South Iraq
A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman has killed at least 53 people and wounded scores in an attack that targeted Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims passing through a checkpoint in Iraq's southern city of Basra.
The bombing at the end of Arbain, one of the main religious observances in the Shi'ite calendar, is the worst such incident this year, amid a political crisis and renewed fears of a resurgence of sectarian violence.
Salah Hussein is one of the eye witnesses.
"They were 180 people, men and women and with our own eyes we saw ambulances evacuating them. God and his prophet can't accept this attack against the visitors of Imam Hussein."
Security forces have sealed off the main hospital in Basra, fearing further attacks as soldiers, police and civilians rushed blood-covered victims to the hospital. Some of the wounded are stuffed into car trunks.
Hundreds of wailing relatives packed into the city morgue searching for casualties.
Arbain marks the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed in a 7th century battle in the Iraqi holy city of Kerbala. It has been a repeated target of militants since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
US to Exchange Ambassadors with Myanmar
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Washington is ready to exchange ambassadors with Myanmar in recognition of the reform pursued by the Southeast Asian nation.
She applauded recent developments in Myanmar, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, and the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Kayin National Union, the country's largest anti- government ethnic armed group.
She also spoke of other "important steps" taken by Myanmar's civilian government since taking office in April 2011, including easing restrictions on media and civil society, engaging opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a "substantive" dialogue and amending electoral laws to pave the way for her National League for Democracy party to participate in the political process, and setting a date for the by-elections this year.
"In consultation with members of Congress and at the direction of President Obama, we will start the process of exchanging ambassadors with Burma. We will identify a candidate to serve as U.S. ambassador, to represent the United States government and our broader efforts to strengthen and deepen our ties with both the people and the government."
Washington downgraded its diplomatic representation in Myanmar to charge d'affaires some 20 years ago, after a military coup in the Asian country, formerly known as Burma.
Clinton set foot on Myanmar in December last year, making her the first U.S. secretary of state ever to visit the country in more than 50 years. Her visit was followed by other U.S. and foreign officials.
Merkel Urges Quick Action on Fiscal Union after Ratings Downgrade
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says ratings downgrades in the Euro-zone by Standard & Poor's underlines the importance of a fiscal compact in ending Europe's debt crisis.
"We have acknowledged the decision by Standard & Poor's. The decision supports my belief that in Europe we still have a long way to go in order to regain the investor's trust. We are now challenged to implement the fiscal compact even quicker and to do it resolutely."
Ratings agency Standard & Poor's has downgraded the credit ratings of nine out of 17 Euro-zone countries. Germany kept its top AAA rating. But Europe's second largest economy - France was cut by one notch to AA+.
Last December, Euro-zone leaders agreed on the tightening of fiscal controls on the 17 member countries to address their debt woes. The leaders aimed to have the agreement, known as a "fiscal compact", ready to take effect by March.
The German chancellor also seeks to allay concerns that the downgrade of France would complicate the work of Europe's temporary rescue fund, the 440 billion euros European Financial Stability Facility.
However, she does underline the urgency of putting its permanent successor, the European Stability Mechanism, in place quickly.
"We will work to implement as quickly as possible the European Stability Mechanism or ESM - that is also important for investors' confidence."
Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier that they would consider speeding up payments into the ESM.
The ESM will be able to lend 500 billion euros; 80 billion euros of its funding will be in the form of paid-in capital from Euro nations.
Hungarian Protesters Call for Exit from EU
Thousands have demonstrated in the Hungarian capital Budapest at a rally of the far-right Jobbik party, calling for Hungary's exit from the EU.
"Since we have joined the EU we have had no benefits from it. Hungary should walk its own path and preserve its national sovereignty."
"Not only us but many other countries believe now that they could be better off outside the EU."
Analysts say the protest adds pressure on the Hungarian government, which is seeking a funding deal with the EU and IMF to avert insolvency.
The EU has piled pressure on the government to change controversial legislation on its central bank and judiciary in return for assistance.
But the Hungarian government now appears reluctant to make amends to the lenders, after talks with them were derailed last month.
Students Protest Assassination of Iranian Nuclear Expert
Hundreds of university students have rallied in Tehran to protest Wednesday's assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist.
They chanted "death to America, death to Israel," and vowed not to give in to pressure from America and "western" powers.
Ali Omrani is a protesting Tehran university student.
"They can not slow down our scientific progress with the assassination of our nuclear scientists or experts from other fields. Our objectives are much bigger than they think. In fact, we want to drive over them and destroy them."
On Friday, thousands of mourners had gathered for the funeral of the scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who Iranian officials say was the victim of covert Israeli and American operations to halt Iran's nuclear program.
Roshan, a chemistry specialist was killed in a daylight assassination when two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car on Wednesday in Tehran.
The death has raised calls in Iran for retaliation against both the US and Israel, and the country is reportedly preparing a covert counteroffensive against the West.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US and Israel of being behind the attack.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied any American role in the murder, and no evidence has confirmed involvement by any western country yet.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.
Since 2010, blasts have killed at least four Iranian nuclear scientists.
Obama to Ask Congress for Power to Merge Agencies
US President Barack Obama has asked Congress for authority to shrink the U.S. government and create a single export agency. He says the bureaucracy is too complex and unable to meet the demands of a 21st century economy.
"We live in a 21st century economy but we've still got a government organized for the 20th century. Our economy has fundamentally changed, as has the world, but our government, our agencies have not."
Obama has proposed merging six departments and agencies into one, a move that will effectively eliminate the Commerce Department.
"Sometimes more is better - this is not one of those cases because it produces redundancy and inefficiency. With the authority I'm requesting today, we consolidate them all into department with one website, one phone number, one mission - helping American businesses succeed. That's a big idea."
With U.S. unemployment still high and the economy growing slowly, Obama is trying to boost U.S. trade ties with developing markets such as Asia as a way to spur output. He has set a goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years.
The move comes against the backdrop of the 2012 elections, where a central theme of the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been reducing government and limiting its influence over Americans.
UN Chief Demands Disarmament of Anti-Israel Hezbollah
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has demanded the disarmament of the anti-Israeli Hezbollah, which had said his visit to Lebanon was not welcome.
"We are deeply concerned about the military capacity of Hezbollah and we are also concerned about the lack of progress in disarmament that is why we discussed this matter very seriously and I strongly encouraged President Suleiman to initiate by convening national dialogue to address all these issues. The United Nations is deeply committed to see the disarmament, all these arms are outside of the authorized state, the authority is not acceptable."
Ban Ki-moon's trip made waves even before he arrived, with one Hezbollah leader saying he was not welcome, a stance criticised by Lebanese politicians opposed to the armed Shi'ite Islamist movement and its Syrian and Iranian patrons.
"I am grateful to all United Nations staff in Lebanon, their safety and security is critically important. That is why I have asked the Lebanese government to strengthen its protection. The president and the prime minister, they all agreed to take necessary measures."
Hezbollah accepted an expansion of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, in the south after its devastating 2006 war with Israel, but rejects a UN Security Council resolution that demands that it lay down its weapons, as all other Lebanese armed groups did after the 1975-90 civil war.
UNIFIL is now the third biggest UN peacekeeping operation beginning after an Israeli invasion against Palestinian guerrillas in 1978.
In the meantime, Ban Ki-moon has urged Syria to halt the killings in an attempt to oust President Bashar al-Assad. He said Lebanon should continue to offer refuge to Syrians fleeing the unrest.
Libya Begins to Circulate New Currency
Libya has begun circulating its new currency, gradually withdrawing the older 50-dinar notes, worth around 40 US dollars.
The image of former leader Muammar Gaddafi's frowning, sunglasses-adorned face still stares out of Libya's 50-dinar bills, so the withdrawal of these bills has been taken as a first step to eliminate his remaining financial influence after the end of the civil war.
Sadik Kabir, president of the Libyan Central Bank:
"The withdrawal of the 50-dinar notes, which is being carried out by commercial banks and their branches, began on Thursday and will last until March 15. The schedule for the withdrawal of other notes will be announced later, and there will be a time limit for each of them."
After the end of the Libyan civil war, many schools and squares in Libya have had their names changed, such as the Al Fateh University and Green Square, which are now Tripoli University and Martyr's Square respectively. Content involving Gaddafi has also been removed from school textbooks.
WFP Distributes Food Aid to Refugees in South Sudan
Food aid in Pibor, South Sudan is waiting to be distributed to victims of an ethnically charged massacre earlier this month. The attack may have killed hundreds and caused another 60,000 to flee into the bush.
South Sudan has been plagued by blood feuds and ethnic clashes over cattle and territory for decades but violence has recently increased, fuelled by a flood of weapons left over from the civil war and other conflicts.
Chris Nikoi, country director of the World Food Program, says his agency is attempting to feed some 20,000 people who have fled to Pibor and require food aid.
"Because of the axis difficulties, we are having to rely on airlifts, to bring in most of the food by air. For two reasons, one, because of the challenges of having access to where these populations are, and, secondly, to be able to reach them quickly. Because time is of the essence."
Murle people in Pibor described what happened to them.
"My child was being carried by my mother. My mother was killed and the child was wounded. The next day we found my mother dead. The child was still alive and we brought her here."
In Gumruk, 40km southwest of Pibor, the WFP are distributing food aid for the first time since the violence, hoping to assist some of those who sought refuge in the bush.
Some analysts say South Sudan may become a failed state as the government struggles to build up state institutions while simultaneously attempting to end tribal and rebel violence. Widespread corruption is another major hindrance to the government which it is addressing.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July following a peace deal that ended a long and bloody civil war.
Sales Season in Greece to Promote Public Consumption
Shoppers have browsed for the best bargains in Athens ahead of the winter sales season.
Sales are officially set to start on Monday, but retailers offered deep discounts over the weekend in an attempt to lure in customers after a bleak Christmas season.
With wage and pension cuts, rising inflation and a recession now entering its fifth year, the Greeks have seen a drop in living standard and are forced to cut spendings. Therefore despite the sales many Greeks remained reluctant to part with their money for anything but the necessities.
"I'm not going to spend recklessly, I'm still only going to buy necessary items, but if I see something that I need it will be easier to purchase, now that things are better due to the sales."
Greece's retail sales dropped by 30 percent during the Christmas holiday compared with the same period the year before.
Therefore some shop owners are holding a gloomy outlook for the winter sales.
Giorgos Pierakis plans to close up his small handbag store this year.
"Sales were very slow over the Christmas season, and despite the fact that there is some hope for things to go better during the sales, that has not proven to be the case, at least today, the first day of the sales."
But some others think the Greeks are waiting for the big sales to kick in before finally purchasing the things they want.
The National Confederation of Greek Commerce said 60,000 Greek businesses had closed between 2009 and 2011, and a further 60,000 could close in 2012 due to the economic crisis.
China to Send Giant Pandas to France
Chinese and French officials bid farewell to two giant pandas bound for France during a ceremony at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
The pair of three-year-old pandas, Yuan Zai and Huan Huan, will stay in Beauval Zoo in Saint Aignan in central France for 10 years, under a joint conservation and research programme.
Zheng Kunsheng, director of the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens wished the pair the best in their new French home.
"I hope that the giant pandas Yuan Zai and Huan Huan can quickly adjust to their new environments, grow up healthily and heartily enjoy their lives in a foreign land. And I hope our cooperation in this giant panda project is a great success."
Officials from the Beauval Zoo joined French consul-general Emmanuel Rosseau and local Chinese officials for the farewell ceremony at the panda base.
Rodolphe Delford, the director of the Beauval Zoo, was particularly pleased that the Beauval Zoo to be able to host the pandas.
"It has been an absolute dream to be able to receive and present to the French people and also the French children this Chinese national treasure, a symbol of friendship, a symbol of a rare species, and of a species in danger, a symbol of conservation, being able to present to them these mystical animals."
He added they had also prepared and hoped that the two pandas would successfully mate and produce offspring at the Beauval Zoo.
Considered a national treasure, the giant panda came back from the brink of extinction, but remains under threat from logging, agriculture and rapid urbanization.
China Daily: Blame Game No Help to US
The latest statistics show that China's trade volume has increased 22.5 percent in 2011. And at the same time China's overall trade surplus has fallen 14.5 percent from a year earlier, which is the lowest level since 2005. Citing those figures, an editorial from China Daily suggests that US policymakers planning to create a government task force to monitor China's trade and currency issues should take a hard look at the latest Chinese trade figures.
The article states that such a remarkable reduction in China's dependence on net exports bears full testimony to the resolution and effectiveness of Chinese policymakers' rebalancing efforts.
For US policymakers genuinely concerned with their country's long-term economic health, the writer says, they must realize that blaming China will not help lift the US economy out of the crisis, which was largely brought about by over-borrowing and over-spending.
Instead, the commentator suggests that the US policy makers should seriously reflect on whether their country can learn and benefit from China's progress in balancing its growth model and moving towards sustainable development.
Wrapping up, the writer reiterates that getting tougher on China is simply not the way to get serious about creating a lasting US recovery.
People's Daily: China Cannot Stop Buying Iranian Oil
It is reported that the US wants China to cooperate with it through stopping buying oil from Iran, so as to tighten sanctions against Iran.
However, some experts warn China has no reason to blindly follow the economic sanctions against Iran initiated by the US, no matter which side is considered. And it is impossible for China to stop buying Iranian oil.
A commentary from the People's Daily newspaper analyzes that the economic sanctions against Iran are launched by the US but not the UN. The US does not mean the international community. China is an independent and sovereign state and shall not follow the US' pace blindly. All economic and trade exchanges between China and Iran are legal transactions based on the international norms and have no violations of the law.
The article reiterates that China's foreign policies focus on pursuing peace and development, hope to maintain world peace and create a good environment for the economic development of China and the world. The tightening of economic sanctions against Iran can only exacerbate the already tense situation in the Gulf region, promote a sharp increase in the risk of war and add uncertainty to the world economy. The article says as a large and responsible country in the international community, China shall not and cannot take this dangerous decision.
Last but not least, the People's Daily commentary says participation in economic sanctions against Iran will damage China's own economic and strategic interests seriously since Iran is China's important sources of oil imports as well as important market of Chinese consumption goods, capital equipment exports and overseas project contracting.