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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected “international dictates” as France’s top diplomat visited, with Paris advocating a UN resolution laying out parameters for peace talks.

With negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians stalled for more than a year, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Netanyahu on Sunday.

The separate meetings in Ramallah and Jerusalem were part of a regional tour by Fabius aimed at reviving peace talks.

France has argued in favour of a UN resolution that would guide negotiations leading to an independent Palestinian state and which could include a timeframe for talks.

Ahead of Fabius’s arrival in Jerusalem, Netanyahu hit out at international diplomatic efforts to impose proposals which he said neglected to address vital Israeli security concerns, saying his government would reject “international dictates”.

In a joint news conference with Fabius after their meeting, Netanyahu said “peace will only come from direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions”.

“It will not come from UN resolutions that are sought to be imposed from the outside,” he said.

Netanyahu said a Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state as well as “iron-clad security arrangements on the ground in which Israel can defend itself” were requirements for peace.

Fabius sought to respond to such concerns, saying negotiations would ultimately be left to the Israelis and Palestinians, but that it did not prevent international support in the process.

“We must both guarantee Israel’s security and at the same time give Palestinians the right to have a state,” Fabius told journalists earlier at a joint news conference with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki in Ramallah.

Malki welcomed France’s efforts, but said he doubted a deal was possible with the current rightwing Israeli government, which he labelled “extremist”.

In Cairo on Saturday, Fabius warned that continued Israeli settlement building on land the Palestinians want for a future state would damage chances of a final deal.

– Lone-wolf attacks –

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been comatose since a major US push for a final deal ended in failure in April 2014.

Israel says the process failed because the Palestinians refused to accept a US framework document outlining the way forward.

But the Palestinians blame the collapse on Israel’s settlement building and the government’s refusal to release veteran prisoners.

The relationship between the two sides remains severely strained, prompting the Palestinians to boost efforts on the international stage to seek their promised state.

Such efforts have included a push to open criminal proceedings against Israel before the International Criminal Court.

Tensions have been high, and on Sunday a Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli border policeman outside Jerusalem’s Old City, with the officer managing to shoot his attacker, leaving him in critical condition.

It was the latest in a string of so-called lone-wolf attacks by Palestinians.

– After Iran talks? –

The United States has consistently defended Israel before the UN Security Council, and any French resolution must be accepted by Washington to avoid a veto.

President Barack Obama’s administration, however, has signalled that it could be swayed given Netanyahu’s recent comments regarding a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu sparked international concern when he ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state while campaigning for the March 17 general election, though he later backtracked.

France could unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state should the peace process remain moribund, a possibility that could pile further pressure on Israel.

France’s diplomatic efforts come against the backdrop of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme, with Israel firmly opposing the deal currently on the table.

Iran and the P5+1 powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — agreed in April on the main outlines of what would be a historic agreement scaling down Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The world powers and Iran set themselves a deadline of June 30 to finalise what would be a highly complex accord.

Some have argued that a window of opportunity may arise after the conclusion of the Iran talks for France to submit a resolution at the United Nations.

They say that Washington would be unlikely to support moves beforehand that could impact negatively on the nuclear negotiations.

Vanuatu cyclone death toll revised to 11

Posted by pakin On March - 23 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

SYDNEY – The death toll from Vanuatu’s devastating cyclone was revised down to 11 on Monday, according to the United Nations which also said contributions to the South Pacific nation’s recovery have topped US$10 million.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had on the weekend put the number of fatalities at 16, but its latest update noted that the Vanuatu government had advised the number was 11.

Dozens were initially feared dead from the maximum category-five cyclone, with early reports from OCHA giving an unconfirmed 44 dead.

Its official figure has been revised several times since, climbing as high as 24 before settling at 11 on Monday.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on March 13, bringing sustained winds of more than 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour, has affected some 166,600 people on 22 of the nation’s 80-plus islands.

“Initial assessment reports confirm destruction ranging from 20 to 90 percent of houses, schools, clinics, churches and crops on all 22 affected islands,” OCHA said.

Lack of shelter remained a key factor, while residents had only limited access to safe water and food stocks were running low.

OCHA said as of Sunday, its financial tracking service had recorded a total of US$10 million in contributions from foreign donors, including Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the European Commission.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who made a flying visit to Vanuatu on Sunday, said that Canberra would assist its Pacific neighbour for the long term.

“We will continue to work closely with the (Vanuatu) government as it begins the long road to recovery,” Bishop told the ABC on Sunday.

BoJ sees zero inflation in Abenomics setback

Posted by pakin On March - 17 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

TOKYO – The Bank of Japan on Tuesday said tumbling energy prices could push inflation to zero, marking another setback for Tokyo’s attempts to kickstart the economy by conquering years of falling or stagnant prices.

While the central bank repeated its view that inflation expectations were “rising on the whole” — and it held fire on launching fresh stimulus — the commentary strikes another blow to efforts to reach a sustained two percent inflation level.

Tokyo’s campaign to stimulate spending faltered after the government raised the country’s sales tax last year to help pay down Japan’s enormous national debt.

That hammered consumer spending and led to a brief recession, while falling oil rates have pulled the carpet on energy-led price increases.

“The year-on-year rate of increase in the consumer price index…. excluding the direct effects of the consumption tax hike, is in the range of 0.0-0.5 percent,” the BoJ said in a statement after a two-day policy meeting.

But it added that inflation “is likely to be about 0 percent for the time being, due to the effects of the decline in energy prices”.

Investors will now be following BoJ chief Haruhiko Kuroda’s regular news briefing later Tuesday for clues about the bank’s plans for its massive two-year-old stimulus.

Kuroda has repeatedly said the bank would further loosen monetary policy if necessary. And policymakers shocked markets in October when they expanded the scheme — which pumps cash into the banking system to kickstart the wider economy — to a rate of about 80 trillion yen ($679 billion) annually.

“While the Bank of Japan kept its powder dry today, we still think that policymakers will step up the pace of easing at the end of next month to signal their determination to hit the two percent inflation target,” Marcel Thieliant from Capital Economics said in a commentary.

The BoJ’s inflation target is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to resuscitate Japan’s fortunes, dubbed Abenomics, which also includes big government spending and an overhaul of the country’s highly regulated economy.

Japan limped out of recession in the last quarter of 2014 with tepid 0.4 percent growth.

However, inflation in January was just 0.2 percent, the lowest since a zero rate in May 2013, just after the BoJ unleashed its monetary easing programme.

Prices had been on the rise, largely due to Japan having to import pricey fossil fuels to plug an energy gap left by the shutdown of atomic reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But plunging oil prices have dealt another blow to the BoJ’s inflation goals, and doubts are growing over the ambitious target — even among bank policymakers.

Minutes from the central bank’s January meeting showed that three of nine BoJ board members doubted the chances of reaching the price target by next year.

S. Korea makes surprise rate cut

Posted by pakin On March - 12 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

SEOUL — South Korea’s central bank cut interest rates for the first time in five months on Thursday in a surprise move, joining the ranks of other economies which have recently taken advantage of lower inflation to ease monetary policy to spur sluggish growth.

The Bank of Korea’s monetary policy committee cut its base rate by 25 basis points to a record low of 1.75%, a media official said without elaborating.

Bond futures rose and the won fell after the decision. Most economists polled by Reuters had expected no rate change at this meeting, though many had still predicted a cut in coming months if the country’s economic recovery continued to struggle to gain traction.

“We think the two key drivers behind today’s decision are a weaker economic outlook and deflation pressures,” said Ronald Man, an economist at HSBC in Hong Kong. “Our baseline scenario is for a further 25 basis point rate cut in Q3 2015, which will bring the policy rate down to 1.5%.”

The Bank of Thailand also cut its policy interest rate on Wednesday in a surprise move. India has cut rates twice already so far this year and China has eased policy two times, with more moves expected. Singapore, Australia and Indonesia have also eased.

The Bank of Korea has been facing mounting pressure to lower borrowing costs in the past few weeks as indicators have shown little evidence that Asia’s fourth-largest economy is on a rapid rebound.

January factory output declined at the fastest pace since December 2008, while exports suffered their worst fall in two years in February.

Members from the central bank’s monetary policy committee also expressed concerns over the economic situation abroad, including the euro zone and China, in minutes from February’s rate meeting released on Tuesday.

Some members highlighted poor exports at home and growing worries over possible deflation in the minutes.

Policymakers have taken a step back from positive talk earlier this year, with the finance minister recently noting the weakness in the economy’s recovery and expressing concerns over persistently low inflation.

South Korea’s annual inflation slowed to a 16-year low in February, though much of it was blamed on low commodity prices rather than weak consumption.

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