On World Environment Day UN launches global effort to assess ecosystems

Speaking at the launch of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the project was designed to bring the world’s best science to bear on the pressing choices the international community faced in managing the global environment. The Assessment – also launched today in Beijing, Havana, London, Tokyo and Turin – is a four-year $21 million effort that involves 1,500 scientists and brings together governments, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions and the private sector.”It will fill important knowledge gaps, enabling policy-makers to make better, more informed decisions,” Mr. Annan said. “Most of all, the Assessment promises to help us improve the lives and livelihoods of the poor, and make considerable gains in our efforts to find and equitable and sustainable balance between environment and development.”This year, the theme of World Environment Day is “Connect with the World Wide Web of Life,” which, observance organizers say, is a reminder that the Earth – with its complex, interlocking systems – is the foundation of our lives. “As our world views are continually challenged by new information, and as we become more aware of the consequences of our collective actions, it becomes harder for us to ignore the quality of our surrounding environment,” said Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).For his part, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri highlighted the fact that this year’s Day coincided with the Assembly’s special session to review the Habitat Agenda adopted five years ago at the second UN Human Settlements conference in Istanbul. “This coincidence underscores the interdependence of our human habitat with the environment and its living and non-living resources.” The head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, said in a message that a dynamic use of information technologies would prove critical in meeting the challenges of better engaging public dialogue on “win-win” opportunities in natural resource management, involving local communities in managing ecosystems, and filling critical information gaps on how best to do so. World Environment Day aims to involve the public in a wide range of activities, such as street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, as well as recycling and clean-up campaigns. As part of today’s observance, UNEP presented its prestigious Global 500 Awards in Turin, Italy, to 18 individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to environmental protection. The agency also launched a new web-portal “FOOD” to help developing countries phase out a toxic and ozone depleting pesticide – methyl bromide. read more

Annan urges Iraq to cooperate with his envoy on Kuwaiti missing persons

In a report to the Security Council released today, the Secretary-General says that over the past four months, Iraq has “continued its approach of non-cooperation with the High-level Coordinator” on the issue, Ambassador Yuli M. Vorontsov.”Once again, I strongly urge the Iraqi leadership to reconsider its current policy regarding the Coordinator,” Mr. Annan writes. “As I have stated on a number of occasions, he can only achieve what he is mandated to accomplish if Iraq changes its position.”The Secretary-General rejects the “groundless and inaccurate claims” put forward by Iraq on the matter, most recently by the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Naji Sabri, in a statement annexed to a letter sent to Mr. Annan on 20 August. Among other charges, Mr. Sabri states that the Secretary-General’s previous report on the issue constituted “final proof of selectivity, double standards and deliberate distortions of the facts.” The Foreign Minister also refers to the “tendentious political nature of the mission of the so-called Coordinator.” In response, Mr. Annan writes in his current report that “such claims are counterproductive for the resolution of long-standing humanitarian issues.” Iraq should, he adds, “abandon its stance of declaring no knowledge of the whereabouts and fate of the Kuwaiti and third-country nationals who were arrested and deported more than 11 years ago.” For his part, Mr. Vorontsov remains ready to meet with Iraqi officials at any time and any place, according to the report. “It is my strong conviction that a dialogue between the Government of Iraq and Ambassador Vorontsov would bring positive results in the search for a solution to the humanitarian issues with which he has been entrusted,” the Secretary-General says. read more

Former top Yugoslav army officer transferred from Serbia to UN war crimes

A former top officer in the Yugoslav army, wanted for allegedly leading a campaign of “terror and violence” in 1999 in Kosovo, was transferred today from Serbia to the detention unit of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.An indictment by the ICTY issued last October accuses General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who held the post of Chief of General Staff, of leading Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serb forces in targeting a substantial portion of Kosovo Albanian civilians for expulsion from the province in an effort to ensure continued Serbian control. The alleged acts occurred between 1 January and 20 June 1999.According to the indictment, approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians were expelled from the province by their forced removal and subsequent looting and destruction of their homes, or by the shelling of villages.Surviving residents were sent to the borders of neighbouring countries and en route many were killed, abused or had their possessions and identification papers stolen, according to the charges. Specific massacres were also allegedly committed by Serb forces in a series of places listed in the indictment.Three other suspects, Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic, are also named in the indictment against Gen. Ojdanic, who is charged with one count of violations of the laws or customs of war and four counts of crimes against humanity. read more

UN protests latest Israeli military assault on one of its schools in

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said yesterday the Israeli military attacked the Ezbet Preparatory Boys’ School despite a visible UN flag and symbol on the premises.A bulldozer demolished the entire front wall, gate and playground outbuilding, UNRWA said, adding that most of the windows in the front of school were broken and some classrooms were damaged during the assault that occurred under Israeli control.”There have been repeated military violations of the sanctity of UNRWA schools during the last 30 months, on the majority of occasions by Israeli forces,” the Agency said, noting that this latest assault comes just one week after a 12-year old pupil sitting in an UNRWA school in Khan Younis, Gaza, was hit in the head by a bullet fired from an Israeli position. The child has since died. read more

Independence of media stressed as UN observes World Press Freedom Day

Eminent writers and reporters gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York today to observe World Press Freedom Day, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan said provided an opportunity for everyone to reaffirm their commitment to the independence of the media and ensure that journalists are able to do their vital work in safety and without fear.”World Press Freedom Day is first and foremost a day on which we remember and pay tribute to journalists who have been killed in the line of duty, or whose reporting has led to their imprisonment or detention,” Mr. Annan said in remarks kicking off a day devoted to discussions on the role and responsibilities of the world media in covering global issues.Drawing on “painful and disturbing” statistics, he said that 36 journalists had been killed in 2003, 17 killed in the first three months of this year alone, and 136 had been jailed by the end of last year. Some of those journalists were deliberately targeted because of what they were reporting or because of their affiliation with a news organization, he added.A sombre highlight of the programme was a screening of director Jonathan Demme’s film “The Agronomist,” which tells the story of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique who ran the country’s first independent radio station, Radio Haiti-Inter, and became a national hero championing the cause of the poor and powerless. Mr. Dominique’s fight for democracy was cut short when he was assassinated in 2000.Mr. Annan said that although journalists have been resolute in the face of hostility and danger, “the continuing threat to their personal and professional integrity must concern all of us who rely on the media as an agent of free expression, as a defender of human rights, as an instrument of development, and as a means of rousing the world’s conscience.”This year, World Press Freedom Day is also focusing on the “very contentious issue of what gets reported and what doesn’t,” Mr. Annan said. “Just as it should not take the collapse of a state for the international community to act, so it should not take a full-fledged crisis to attract the media spotlight. We should not, by our action or inaction, by what we report or do not, send a message – especially to those countries and people in need who struggle along in good faith – that only widespread bloodshed or total dysfunction will get them attention and help.”In that context, Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, moderated a panel discussion on “Reporting and Under-reporting: Who Decides?” with participants representing the media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations.The panel follows last Friday’s release of a list of “Ten Stories the World Should Know More About,” that are, as Mr. Tharoor said last week, “compelling stories that, at this point in time, we believe are in need of more media attention.”Along with conflict situations, the list draws attention to the threat of over-fishing, to the plight of AIDS orphans and to a treaty now in the works to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, who now number roughly one out of every ten people on earth.Opening the daylong programme, Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh, Chairman of the UN Committee on Information, said the world should celebrate freedom of the press because first, it reminded Member States that democracy and development suffered when journalists were too severely constrained. Second, its observation bettered the international community since press freedom was linked to many other equally important rights. And finally, it kept alive the idea that there was still “a long way to go” before press freedom was ensured throughout the world.Meanwhile, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, issued a statement in Geneva stressing that freedom of expression was fundamental for the promotion and protection of all human rights. “The extent to which this freedom is respected or violated is like a barometer, indicating how well countries abide by their human rights obligations in general,” he said.”On this World Press Freedom Day,” he said, “we must not only remember those who have fallen and been targeted for doing their job. We must also ensure that although they have been silenced, millions of other voices, dissonant and dissenting as they may be, will continue to be heard to denounce, inform, report, and educate freely.” Video of the event [2hrs]Listen to UN Radio report read more

Strict new UNsponsored maritime antiterrorism measures come into force

The measures, which require detailed security plans for ships and ports as well as such steps as regular and intensive individual or joint patrolling in vulnerable sea areas and the exchange of real-time intelligence, were developed and adopted by the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) in response to the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.”IMO has repeatedly urged governments and the industry to take steps to increase awareness of the potential dangers and to encourage ships’ crews to be vigilant and alert to any security threat they may encounter,” the agency’s chief, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, said of the new International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code).”Great emphasis has been placed on the entry-into-force date, but the real challenge is to ensure that, now that date has passed, we do not allow ourselves to relax and adopt any complacent attitude,” he added.The measures, adopted in December 2002 by a Conference on Maritime Security, represent the first-ever internationally agreed regulatory framework addressing the crucial issue of maritime security, but IMO stressed that they should not be seen in isolation but as part of the wider UN battle against terrorism.”In effect we are talking about establishing an entirely new culture amongst those involved in the day-to-day running of the shipping and port industry,” IMO said in a release on the ISPS Code, which requires governments to gather and assess information with respect to security threats and exchange such data with other governments. Shipboard and port facility personnel must be aware of security threats and report concerns to the appropriate authorities, while governments need to communicate security related information to ships and port facilities.The measures take the form of amendments to the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, which has 148 contracting governments and applies to 98.4 per cent of the world’s merchant ships by gross tonnage.Security experts have identified a number of terrorist scenarios regarding loaded oil tankers, including their being hijacked and grounded at environmentally sensitive areas to cause pollution, being run aground in narrow channels to block navigation, and being used as potential incendiary devices near ports and large anchorage areas. read more

14 elected to UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia

Among the 13 judges on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) winning re-election last Friday were the court’s President, Theodor Meron of the United States, and its Vice-President, Fausto Pocar of Italy. Presiding Judges Patrick Lipton Robinson of Jamaica, Carmel A. Agius of Malta and Liu Daqun of China were also given new four-year terms, which will begin on 17 November 2005 and expire in 2009. The other re-elected judges were Jean-Claude Antonetti of France, Iain Bonomy of the United Kingdom, O-gon Kwon of the Republic of Korea, Alphonsus Martinus Maria Orie of the Netherlands, Kevin Horace Parker of Australia, Wolfgang Schomburg of Germany, Mohamed Shahabuddeen of Guyana and Christine Van den Wyngaert of Belgium, who had been serving as an ad litem judge. Bakone Melema Moloto of South Africa was the only new judge elected to the UN court. The Tribunal was established by the Security Council in early 1993 to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. It was the first world court established by the UN for the prosecution of war crimes. read more

Thousands hit by Madagascar cyclone receive emergency UN food

“Everyone who has been affected by these two terrible storms will receive relief food,” WFP Deputy Country Director Gianluca Ferrera said. “We will have a better picture of what’s needed in a day or two but in the meantime, food will be distributed to those who have been most critically affected by the flooding.”At least 17 people were killed and 139 others are still reported missing after the two storms struck the province of Tulear. More than 11,000 people were made homeless. WFP plans to initially assist nearly 5,300 of the worst-affected while assessments are conducted to determine the extent of the damage. “Initial indications are that the damage caused from these storms has not been as extensive as that caused by previous cyclones,” Mr. Ferrera noted. “That being said, many people will need help to start rebuilding their lives and repair their homes, and food aid will most certainly play an important role in enabling them to do this.” Last year Madagascar was hit by one of the country’s worst storms when Cyclone Gafilo battered the northeast coast before crossing the large Indian Ocean island off southern Africa and wreaking devastation in the south. Gafilo killed 241 people and followed directly on the heels of another cyclone that killed 29 people. read more

Judicial reform needed for women in postconflict areas UN report says

The report, “Peace Needs Women and Women Need Justice,” has been submitted to the Security Council. It is based on a three-day conference on “best practices” sponsored by UNIFEM and the Stockholm-based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) last September.The vulnerabilities of women are dramatically increased during conflict and, more than that, their rights are seriously violated, or largely ignored, it says.These concerns have already been discussed and reported, it says. What is needed now is “the establishment of a high-level mechanism to determine what issues and recommendations raised at the conference require follow-up action by the UN system as a whole, as well as by Member States, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other relevant actors.”Joint action could be undertaken by the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to spearhead or support the establishment of that mechanism, which could then address the need for a “dedicated structure” in the UN to coordinate assistance for justice systems, with an agreed methodology.Conference participants included women from such areas of pre-independence or continuing conflict as Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Timor-Leste. read more

UN tsunami envoy brings words of encouragement to humanitarian workers

“Everywhere I go in the world, they say thank you to people like you for what you are doing,” Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery Erskine Bowles declared. “I bring that message.”Mr. Bowles, a top aide of former United States President Bill Clinton who was named deputy envoy after Mr. Clinton was temporarily sidelined as Special Envoy by surgery, said he wanted the relief and reconstruction community in Sri Lanka to know that the former president “sees his role as helping you, and he wants to keep the sense of urgency that you have shown and to make sure you get the resources you need.”Mr. Clinton’s objective and his own, he said, “is to keep the money coming in during the three- to five-year recovery stage,” and to make sure that countries honoured the pledges they have already made.Some 90 per cent of the $977 million flash appeal launched by the United Nations to cover the first six months of relief for the disaster, which killed more than 200,000 people and devastated large swathes of coast in a dozen Indian Ocean countries, is already covered, with more than $500 million paid up and the rest firmly committed. But much, much more is needed for long-term reconstruction.Mr. Bowles, who also visited Indonesia and the Maldives, said he would write a full report for Mr. Clinton immediately on his return to New York, and the two would then meet with the heads of UN agencies and international non-government organizations (NGOs).”The UN is at a point of risk right now and we all need to work together,” he added, citing some of the political pressures and attacks currently challenging the world body. Regarding the relief and recovery efforts in Sri Lanka, he stressed the need for “real transparency and accountability.” read more

Funding shortfall threatens 200000 Darfur refugees with hunger UN warns

Just days after warning that a drastic shortage of money will force it to cut rations to more than 1 million people hit by fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has added a further 200,000 refugees who fled to neighbouring Chad to the list of those facing hunger without new donations.“We need food now,” WFP Chad Country Director Stefano Porretti said, appealing for $87 million in food aid to cover needs in refugee camps of eastern Chad until the end of next year.“With the rains only a matter of two or three months away, it is absolutely imperative that we move food to the places where it will be needed later this year. This process has already begun but is far from complete,” he said, noting that prior stockpiling is vital since road transport becomes impossible across most of the region during the rains.Under a revision of its current emergency operation, WFP will also be assisting over 150,000 Chadian nationals as well as providing for the possibility that an additional 150,000 people could cross the border from Darfur if the conflict continues.Last Wednesday the agency announced that starting in May it would have to cut by half the non-cereal part of the daily ration it provides for more than 1 million people in Darfur itself, a last resort to help stretch current food supplies through the critical months of July and August – the traditional lean period when food needs become most acute.Tens of thousands people have been killed and more than 2 million others uprooted in Darfur in the past two years in fighting between Government, militia and rebel forces, originally sparked in part by local calls for a greater share in economic development for the western part of Africa’s largest country. read more

UN agency calls for funds to clean up pesticide waste in Latin

“Previous FAO estimates, based on information provided by countries, suggested a total of about 10,000 tonnes of chemicals requiring disposal in the region,” said Mark Davis, coordinator of FAO’s obsolete pesticides programme. He said new data placed that figure at more than three times as much. “Since that time a more frightening picture has begun to emerge indicating that stocks are far higher and are currently estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 tonnes,” he added. In northern Colombia, around 200 tonnes of the most toxic pesticides were discovered in a single site in El Copey/César Region. FAO has supported the Government in surveying the site and chemicals were repackaged and destroyed. In Paraguay, urgent efforts are being made to remove 125 tonnes of pesticides and heavily contaminated material that were damaged by fire in the capital Asunción in July 2003, according to the agency. Efforts to extinguish the fire led to heavy contamination of the nearby Paraguay River, which flows into Argentina and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean, as well as an adjacent village where people are now showing various symptoms of chronic intoxication. FAO is assisting Paraguay in quantifying obsolete pesticide stocks in other parts of the country. Funds of approximately $3 million will be needed to remove and destroy this toxic waste before further harm is caused to people and the environment. In Bolivia, old stocks of donated arsenic-based pesticides and volatile fumigants were found in residential areas and close to important water bodies, including Lake Titicaca. Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the region, has made efforts to take stock and safely secure these toxins by repackaging the waste with the support of FAO. But still Bolivia needs $3 million to remove the chemicals and put in place measures to strengthen chemical management. FAO has organized a regional training programme for nine South American countries. Government regulators, emergency service staff, industry representatives and activists learned how to safely and effectively complete a detailed inventory and environmental risk assessment of obsolete pesticides, and how to design and supervise a clean-up operation. However, the FAO Obsolete Pesticides Programme has no further funds to support such work in the Latin America region, Mr. Davis said. The Organization is therefore now calling for donor funding to build capacity in the region and to ensure that it complies with the highest international standards. read more

Afghanistan Security Council condemns attempts to disrupt upcoming elections

With preparations for Afghanistan’s legislative elections taking place in the shadow of escalating violence, the United Nations Security Council today condemned “terrorist acts or other forms of violence” aimed at disrupting the political process, and called on the international community to make up a nearly $30 million shortfall to fund the poll. “The Security Council expresses grave concern about the increased attacks by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other extremist groups in Afghanistan over the past few months, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan, which holds the 15-nation body’s rotating Presidency for the month of August, said. Reading out a statement that wrapped up a briefing by Jean Arnault, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Mr. Oshima encouraged all Afghan participants, especially the candidates and their supporters, “to work constructively to ensure that the ongoing electoral campaigns are conducted peacefully, in an environment free of intimidation, and that the elections can be held successfully.” Mr. Oshima said that Council members expressed the strong view that the international community must maintain a high level of commitment to help Afghanistan tackle such challenges as, disbandment of illegal armed groups, the production and trafficking of drugs, development of government institutions, acceleration of judicial reforms, protection of human rights, and sustainable economic and social development. The Council also voiced its readiness to review UNAMA’s mandate after the completion of the electoral process, in order to allow the UN to continue to play a vital role in the post-Bonn period, the transitional phase that began with the international conference on Afghanistan in Germany in 2001. Mr. Oshima added that at the request of the Afghan Government, the Council is also ready to consider the renewal of the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to restore order in the war-torn country prior to its expiration. In his briefing to the Council, Mr. Arnault said that while troubling developments on the security front were a reminder of the hurdles that Afghans faced in rebuilding their country, he was confident that by year’s end a representative new National Assembly would be established, and with it Afghanistan’s political transition would be successfully completed. Mr. Arnault also noted the deteriorating security in June and July. Attacks had recently resumed with increased intensity in the south, east and south-east, with ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remaining the tactics of choice of the extremists, with deadly effect. The number of attacks against UN staff had decreased compared to last year, and those against the candidates and electoral workers had been mostly indirect. However, Mr. Arnault said it was too soon to rule out attempts at causing major disruptions of the elections. In addition, increased insecurity in the provinces along the eastern border was a cause of concern for the elections there. Video of Council meeting [3hrs 24mins] read more

New 10 million loan from UN agency aims to help diversify economy

A new United Nations-supported programme will make it possible for more than 56,000 rural poor in Benin to gain access to financial services, technology and markets, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has announced.“This programme will benefit farmers by introducing post-harvest technologies like storage facilities that protect crops from insects and pests and by linking farmers to markets through training programmes to improve the quality of products,” said Lennart Bage, IFAD President, at the signing event on Friday in Rome in which the Benin agricultural minister, Fatiou Akplogan, also participated.Farmers will also learn to market their products at trade fairs, set up shops and process products so they increase in value, Mr. Bage said.A major focus of the programme will be to increase access to savings and credit through the consolidation and expansion of 200 village banks called Financial Services Associations. A network of these associations will be expanded to include about 100,000 shareholders by the end of 2010.Special attention will be paid to women and young people who have particularly limited access to land, financial services, information and training. IFAD said it has seen from previous programmes that women are often more active than men in starting new businesses, and they pay back loans sooner than men. The $14.8 million Rural Development Support Programme will be financed by a $10 million IFAD loan. So far, IFAD has participated in financing 9 loans to Benin for a total investment of $226.35 million, it said. read more

UN food agency running out of supplies in blockaded Gaza Strip

Warning that food is running out in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed to the Israeli authorities to allow consignments to reach the tens of thousands of people there who depend on outside assistance to survive. At the same time, WFP called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to take all necessary steps to ensure the security of WFP staff and other humanitarian aid workers inside the occupied Palestinian territory so they can work unimpeded. The agency said the extended closures of the Karni commercial crossing between Israel and Gaza have had a devastating effect on food availability in the Palestinian enclave. Stocks of wheat flour are already critically low and some fear there will soon be no basic commodities in Gaza. “Our food supplies have almost run out and the bakeries are also empty. People are now having to rely on their own stocks, which will last only a few days at best,” said William Hart, WFP Deputy Country Director in the area. “The situation is critical, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable, who are dependent on our food aid.”WFP provides food aid to some 430,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including 160,000 in the Gaza Strip. Even before Hamas won parliamentary elections in January, WFP’s operations were 65 per cent under-funded. Since then, the Israeli blockade, combined with deteriorating security in the occupied Palestinian territory, have reduced food supplies to a trickle. Mr. Hart called on all sides to allow humanitarian operations to continue unimpeded. “This means lifting the blockade on aid convoys and commercial food deliveries, as well as ensuring safe conditions in the West Bank and Gaza for our international and national staff to work normally.” As a result of the blockade, flour mills have been unable to provide 8,000 metric tons of wheat contracted earlier by WFP. Wheat flour makes up 80 per cent of the basic diet in Gaza. Other commodities, including sugar, baby formula and dairy products, are also in short supply, causing food prices to soar more than 30 per cent since January. WFP has so far received only 37 per cent of the $81 million required for its two-year operation to provide food aid for non-refugee Palestinians up to 31 August 2007. read more

Palestinians continue to flee Baghdad for Syria – UN refugee agency

Speaking to the press in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said that on Saturday, a group of 67 Palestinians arrived at Tanef border crossing in northeastern Syria. Another group of over 50 Palestinians, including four pregnant women and several babies, arrived at the border on Sunday but was told to remain on the Iraqi side. There are reports that more Palestinians are on their way towards the Syrian border. The first group was not allowed official access into Syria, “but were authorized to remain on the Syrian side of no man’s land,” Mr. Redmond said. A UNHCR team tried to help them gain entry, but was informed by Syrian authorities that no newcomers would be accepted.“The Palestinians say they are determined to stay until they are officially authorized to enter Syrian territory,” Mr. Redmond said. The agency has provided food and basic items to the group, while a medical team from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was dispatched to check on their health.Last week, UNHCR, with the help of UNRWA and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at the invitation of the Syrian Government, transferred nearly 300 Palestinians who had been stranded for nearly two months at the Iraq-Jordan and Iraq-Syria border crossings into Syria.Entry into Syria has since then been impossible for other Palestinians fleeing violence and intimidation in Baghdad, where an estimated 23,000 Palestinians still live. read more

Lebanon UN observer teams in line of fire in south to relocate

The decision was made to move members of the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL) from patrol bases in the Marwahin and Markaba area into more secure UNIFIL positions as the mission reports increasingly intense exchanges of fire along the Blue Line of withdrawal between Israel and Lebanon. There were two direct hits on its bases in the past 24 hours from the Israeli side, and Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five of its positions.Beside the fatal attack on the patrol base at Khiyam, a military observer was seriously wounded by Hezbollah small arms fire on Sunday, and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jane Holl Lute told the Security Council on Wednesday that observers may need to be consolidated to minimize further risk.Despite the risks, however, all other UNIFIL positions remain occupied and maintained by its troops, the mission said, adding that the number of troops in some Ghanaian battalion positions is somewhat reduced due to frequent incidents of Hezbollah firing and Israeli bombardment in their vicinity.With the mandate of UNIFIL expiring in three days, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his most recent report that the upsurge in violence since 12 July had “radically changed the context” in which the mission operates and he recommended its mandate be renewed only for another month while all possible options for southern Lebanon are worked out. Before the recent violence, the Lebanese Government had called for a six-month extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, but Mr. Annan wrote that currently the “circumstances conducive to United Nations peacekeeping do not exist.” Council members yesterday received a draft resolution, submitted by France, for the one-month extension.Meanwhile, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has organized, for Monday, a technical-level meeting for potential troop contributors to a possible stabilization force in Lebanon, which had been proposed by Mr. Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair early in the current crisis and which has been slowly gaining acceptance among the international community as the carnage grinds on.However, speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters today, Mr. Annan said that he could not expect States to make commitments to the new force until a political agreement is reached. Until that time, he reiterated his call for an immediate cessation of violence to end the horrific toll on civilians. read more

GM going ahead with closure of one of its Oshawa plants by

AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email General Motors is going ahead with plans to close its consolidated plant in Oshawa, Ont., in what its union calls a “disgusting” move it says will eliminate 2,000 jobs directly and many thousands more indirectly.“Obviously it’s devastating news,” Chris Buckley, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 222 said in an interview after the union received confirmation notice Friday of the pending closure.“Over 2,000 GM workers are finding out today that they with lose their job as of June 2013.“And, when you look at the spinoff employment created as a result of auto assembly, there will be more like 18,000 jobs that will be lost as a result of General Motors’ terrible decision today.”Buckley said he’s “absolutely disgusted” with the move, saying in 2009 CAW members, both active and retired, were forced to make significant sacrifices in order to save the company.“And this is GM’s way of rewarding our members,” he said.Besides the consolidated plant, GM also has a flex assembly plant in Oshawa that is getting a share of the production of the new Chevy Impala, which is also being built at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Michigan.The flex line currently employs 2,000 people assembling the Chevy Camaro, Buick Regal and soon, the Cadillac XTS.The consolidated plant, which produces the Chevrolet Impala and the Equinox, was originally scheduled to close 2008. But due to the market demand for the current generation Chevrolet Impala and the subsequent addition of the Equinox shuttle program, it has remained in business.However, beginning in the fourth quarter of this year, the third shift at the plant will be removed, then the second shift in the first quarter of next year, General Motors of Canada Ltd. said Friday.“As previously announced the consolidated line will cease at the end of scheduled life cycle for the current generation Impala. This is currently anticipated to occur in June 2013,” the company said.However, Buckley said the union isn’t giving up on the plant, arguing both the federal and Ontario governments should get involved because they remain major shareholders to the tune of $8 billion as a result of government bailouts of the auto industry.“So I challenge both our federal and provincial governments to join with the Canadian Autos Workers in attempting to reverse GM’s decision,” he said.Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said while the closure was expected it is “disappointing,” and suggested he’d be willing to work with GM to extend the facility’s lifespan.“It had been originally scheduled to close in 2008. We’ve been very grateful for the extension to this point in time,” McGuinty said in Ottawa.“If there’s any way at all possible that we might work with GM to extend that even further obviously we’d be more than pleased to consider that.”Buckley said the addition of the Impala at the flex plant means that, at best, a third shift would be added, raising employment at the plant to 2,500.“And that would be consumer driven,” he said, meaning any additional work would depend on the vehicle’s popularity.Buckley said the two plants would be “levelled off” based on seniority, meaning that some workers at the consolidated plant will get to keep their jobs and move to flex plant, while some workers at the flex plant will be among those getting layoff notices.“The most senior people stay, the most junior people are forced to the street,” he said.Buckley said it would be the union’s “top priority” to maintain the consolidated plant when it heads into collective bargaining this summer.“I’m not feeling very comfortable as of today that General Motors will entertain our idea of keeping the plant open but we’re not going to stop pressing them,” he added.GM has been scaling back its overall operations in Canada as part of a North American restructuring begun two years ago under bankruptcy court protection. That streamlining led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs at the company’s Canadian and U.S. operations and the shutdown of several plants.In Canada, GM has already closed a truck plant in Oshawa and a transmission factory in Windsor, Ont.GM Canada currently employs more than 10,000 people across the country. In its heyday, the automaker had more than twice that total and major operations in Windsor, Oshawa and St. Catharines, Ont. GM going ahead with closure of one of its Oshawa plants by June 2013 by Hugh McKenna, The Canadian Press Posted Jun 1, 2012 8:19 pm MDT read more

Worries Greek debt needs further restructuring helps send TSX lower for 3rd

by Malcolm Morrison, The Canadian Press Posted Jul 24, 2012 4:47 pm MDT Worries Greek debt needs further restructuring helps send TSX lower for 3rd day TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed lower for a third session Tuesday as worries about the future of the eurozone discouraged buyers.A report that Greece will have do yet another restructuring of its debt added to concerns about whether higher borrowing costs for Spain are a precursor to the country seeking a bailout and an unsettling downgrade by Moody’s Investor Services.The S&P/TSX composite index slid 78.59 points to 11,466.95 amid a positive report from Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B). The TSX Venture Exchange was down 7.69 points to 1,166.47.The Canadian dollar ticked 0.35 of a cent lower to 98 cents US as nervous investors piled into U.S. Treasuries. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury went as low as 1.4 per cent.“It’s still a matter of risk-on, risk-off,” said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier.“Sometimes you feel regulatory officials and companies are handling these challenging times quite well and other times you feel scared. There is no better gauge than looking at U.S. 10-year bond yields, which have hit an all time low.”Apple Inc. (Nasdaq:AAPL) shares plunged nearly six per cent in after-hours trading following its post-market close report that third-quarter earnings per share were US$9.32, missing analysts’ expectations of US$10.37 by a full dollar. Revenues were $35 billion, while analysts expected $37 billion on lower iPhone sales.Weak earnings reports from DuPont and United Parcel Services also pressured U.S. markets. But indexes closed off the worst levels of the session after the Wall Street Journal said the U.S. Federal Reserve is moving closer to applying further stimulus measures to support the economy.The Dow Jones industrials dropped 104.14 points to 12,617.32.The Nasdaq composite index was off 27.16 points to 2,862.99 and the S&P 500 index lost 12.21 points to 1,338.31.Stocks were negative on worries that Spain may need a full-blown sovereign bailout. The country has been mired in recession and its banks are saddled with billions of euros in toxic loans arising from a collapsed real estate market.“The rain in Spain comes back again,” added Nakamoto.Confidence about Spain’s ability to deal with its finances has taken a beating, with the country forced to pay ever higher yields in order to finance its debt. The yield on its benchmark 10-year bond surged well past the seven per cent mark Monday, a level considered unsustainable.The yield on the country’s 10-year bonds was up another 0.11 percentage points Tuesday at 7.54 per cent, while the IBEX 35 stock index in Madrid was 3.6 per cent lower.Losses on North American markets picked up amid media reports that three EU officials believe Greece will have to restructure some €200 billion in debt, which would place more strain on the European Central Bank and the other 16 eurozone countries.The report surfaced a day before representatives of Greece’s creditors are due in Athens for weeks of talks ahead of their next report on Greece’s austerity program, on which continued payment of bailout money hinges. Greece depends on rescue loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund to keep paying for vital public services and servicing its loans.Adding to market pessimism was a move by Moody’s Investor Services late Monday to lower the outlook on Germany’s AAA rating to negative from stable due to mounting uncertainties from the eurozone debt crisis.Moody’s also downgraded the outlooks on the Netherlands and Luxembourg and affirmed Finland’s AAA rating.The agency noted that the cost of supporting Italy and Spain in the eurozone would fall most heavily on better rated members “if the euro area is to be preserved in its current form.”Moody’s also said there was an “increased likelihood” that Greece would leave Europe’s monetary union.The telecom sector led TSX advancers, up 1.44 per cent even as Rogers Communications Inc. reported net income declined 2.4 per cent to $400 million, or 75 cents per share. But adjusted earnings of $478 million, or 91 cents per share beat estimates by five cents. Revenue was $3.11 billion, up slightly from $3.1 billion in the comparable period, but below expectations of $3.14 billion. But its shares jumped $1.77 to $39.01. Elsewhere in the sector, BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) gained 49 cents to $41.79.Commodities were mixed Tuesday after demand worries and a rising American currency impacted prices for oil and metals on Monday.The gold sector was ahead slightly with the August bullion contract closing down $1.20 at US$1,576.20 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) edged up 19 cents to C$33.66 .The energy sector fell 1.84 per cent while the September crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange shook off early losses to gain 36 cents to US$88.50 after plunging almost $4. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) lost $1.11 to C$27.67.Husky Energy Inc. says weaker commodity prices helped pull second-quarter net earnings down to $431 million, or 43 cents per share, from $591 million, or 60 cents per share, a year ago. Its shares lost early momentum and declined 28 cents to $24.84.The base metals sector slipped almost one per cent with copper prices off three cents at US$3.35 a pound after falling seven cents on Monday. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) declined 39 cents to $29.41 while Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN) gave back 27 cents to $8.10.The financial sector dropped 0.85 per cent with Royal Bank (TSX:RY) down 70 cents to $50.82. AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email read more