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US President Barack Obama has vowed to expand trade agreements between North America and Asia, despite concerns within his own political party.

Ending a day of talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, Mr Obama said they must keep up their “competitive advantage”.

The three countries are negotiating a major Pacific trade deal.

But Mr Obama’s Democratic allies oppose the agreement amid concerns that American jobs could be lost.

The US president was in Toluca, Mexico, on Wednesday to discuss trade, immigration and energy issues with the Canadian and Mexican leaders.

Jobs at risk?

Specifically, they addressed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional pact among 12 nations that would be one of the world’s biggest trade deals.

“We’ll get this passed if it’s a good agreement,” Mr Obama said during an end-of-summit news conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The talks between the three nations, sometimes known as the Three Amigos, highlighted the changes to their economies in the two decades since another major trade agreement among them, Nafta, took effect.

Mr Pena Nieto said new trade deals were “bound to go beyond and enhance all together the progress that each one of our countries has made” since Nafta.

Mr Harper echoed their words of support for the TPP, saying he was “focused on bringing those negotiations to a successful conclusion”.

But back in the US, the president’s own Democratic congressional allies – with an eye on November’s midterm elections – are blocking his attempts to expedite the trade agreement.

Union leaders warn such a trade deal could harm American jobs, while environmental groups say it would increase pollution.

Sources of frustration

At the news conference, Mr Obama also said immigration remained one of his “highest priorities”.

Mexican officials would like to see America’s immigration laws overhauled, but US Republican leaders have said little progress is likely before November’s elections.

The only other source of frustration to emerge between the three allies on Wednesday was Canada’s call for approval of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Mr Obama said he would continue to examine the project’s potential environmental effect.

“I said previously that how Keystone impacted greenhouse gas emissions would affect our decision, but frankly it has to affect all of our decisions at this stage,” he said.

There was a fresh setback for the project on Wednesday as a judge in Nebraska struck down a law allowing a route for the pipeline through that US state.

Francois Hollande arrives in US for state visit to Obama

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 11 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

French President Francois Hollande has arrived in the US for a state visit, as he and President Barack Obama tout their co-operation on issues from Iran to trade and climate change.

In articles published jointly in US and French newspapers, they said “our deepening partnership offers a model for international cooperation”.

A state dinner will be held on Tuesday.

The trip comes as Mr Hollande is mired in low approval ratings at home and a personal scandal.

After Mr Hollande’s arrival on Monday afternoon, he and Mr Obama flew to Monticello in the state of Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the US, an envoy to France, and the third US president.

The two toured Jefferson’s home, how on the campus of the University of Virginia, stopping by his study, the kitchen and the quarters of slaves who helped build and run the estate.

‘Our current bond’

US President Barack Obama (R) and French President Francois Hollande tour the bedroom inside the Virginia residence of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, Virginia 10 February 2014
Mr Hollande noticed one of the books on display at Monticello was in French

In remarks after their tour, Mr Hollande said Monticello was a symbol of US-French relations, “because here [Marquis de] Lafayette was welcomed”.

He was referring to a French aristocrat who served in the Continental Army, which defeated the British and won American independence.

“Together, Lafayette and Jefferson imagined something that seemed impossible – mainly American independence and human rights and the rights of the citizen,” Mr Hollande said through a translator.

The US president said the visit was an opportunity to reflect on the history of US-French relations.

“Tomorrow we’ll have an opportunity to talk about not only our current bonds and alliance but also ways that we can strengthen our cooperation in the future,” Mr Obama said.

In articles published jointly in the Washington Post and Le Monde on Monday, the presidents hailed their efforts in the Middle East, including negotiations with Iran that led to an interim agreement on its disputed nuclear programme, and in Syria, where they said their threat of force had “paved the way for the plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons”.

Mr Obama and Mr Holland also urged action to combat climate change, writing their countries could “expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth”.

Ties between the two nations have warmed considerably since France refused to support the US-led invasion of Iraq under President George W Bush.

With rancour over the Iraq War a fading memory, the two countries now find themselveslargely in step on a wide range of issues.

French President Jacques Chirac and US President Bill Clinton, joined by their wives, during a 1996 state visit
Mr Hollande’s trip is the first French state visit to the US since Jacques Chirac visited Bill Clinton in 1996
French President Nicolas Sarkozy with US President George W Bush, during a working visit to the US in 2007
Not the first French president to try to build bridges, Nicolas Sarkozy paid a working visit in 2007
French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing alongside US President Gerald Ford, Anne-Aymone Giscard d'Estaing and Betty Ford, during a visit to the US in May 1976
Arriving by Concorde, French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing visited US President Gerald Ford in 1976

But the run-up to Mr Hollande’s visit has been overshadowed by his grim domestic situation.

His long-time partner Valerie Trierweiler did not travel with him, after the breakdown in their relationship following accusations he had had affair.

Lavish state dinner

On Tuesday Mr Hollande and Mr Obama will hold bilateral talks on the global economic recovery, strengthening the Eurozone, the French president’s effort to boost the French economy, Iran, and other topics, according to US officials.

After a joint news conference, Mr Hollande will have lunch with Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry at the state department.

In the evening, Mr Obama will play host to Mr Hollande for a lavish official state dinner at the White House.

During his time in the US, Mr Hollande will also travel to San Francisco and meet chiefs of Silicon Valley giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

There he may face questions over his government’s desire for uniform taxation on internet companies – many of them US-based – that skirt high taxes in France.

Suthep writes to Obama, affirming non-violent campaign

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 25 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban has sent a letter to US President BarackObama, affirming non-violent campaign of the PDRC to fight against a corrupt and “dictatorial” regime.

Suthep said in the letter that the PDRC is a pro-democracy movement and he wrote the letter to respond to questions of the international community.

He alleged that the Yingluck government had obtained power by violations of democratic principles – by buying votes and manipulating electoral system.

His letter says:

“Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to you today in response to a number of questions raised by the international community regarding the political protests that are ongoing in the Kingdom of Thailand. My name is Suthep Thaugsuban, and I am leading this movement through the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Please let me assure you that the PDRC is not conducting an anti-democratic uprising. In fact, the PDRC is a pro-democracy movement intent upon removing the dictatorial regime led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who has been empowered through and directed by her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. For the past 13 years, the Shinawatra family has governed Thailand by a combination of tyranny, corruption, bribery, theft, and a complete disregard for human rights. While both Thaksin and Yingluck were both elected by the people of Thailand, both their elections and their governance represent the gravest of violations of democratic principles – including vote buying and electoral manipulation by the state – and over the past several months, millions of people representing the whole of Thailand have risen up to object.

The PDRC strategy is based on non-violent civil disobedience. While many of Thaksin’s supporters have objected strenuously to our use of civil disobedience, please let me remind you that throughout the world, people have claimed their rightful independence, received recognition of civil rights, fought apartheid, and defeated Communism through this same civil disobedience. I will argue that Thai citizens are morally responsible to rise up and demand removal of both Yingluck and the influence of Thaksin, then define and implement the reform necessary to ensure that the Kingdom of Thailand remains free from unjust and corrupt leaders in the future. Most importantly, a reform that will bring about free and fair elections and a truly representative government.

The people of Thailand want and deserve democracy, and I am confident that the PDRC will help achieve and maintain the democratic process that this great country has long deserved.

Most respectfully,

Suthep Thaugsuban

People’s Democratic Reform Committee”

Tens of thousands of South Africans have joined dozens of world leaders for the national memorial service for former President Nelson Mandela.

The service was held in front of a vociferous crowd in the FNB stadium in Johannesburg.

US President Barack Obama said Mr Mandela was a “giant of history”, describing him as the last great liberator of the 20th Century.

The former South African president died last Thursday, aged 95.

The country is observing a series of commemorations leading up to the funeral on Sunday.

‘A mighty life’

The memorial service, which began at about 12:00 (10:00 GMT), lasted about four hours.

It was one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years, with more than 100 current or former heads of state or government attending.

There had been fears people would be turned away. But with heavy rain, security and transport issues, and the fact that Tuesday was not declared a national holiday, areas of the 95,000-capacity stadium remained empty.

Introducing the proceedings, the master of ceremonies, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that Mr Mandela’s “long walk is over… and he can finally rest”.

Current South African President Jacob Zuma made the keynote address but was booed in some parts of the ceremony.

He said Mr Mandela was “one of a kind… a fearless freedom fighter who refused to allow the brutality of the apartheid state to stand in way of the struggle for the liberation of his people”.

Mr Zuma announced he was renaming the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where Mr Mandela will lie in state, as the Mandela Amphitheatre.

Earlier Mr Obama delivered his address, carried on the White House web site, to huge cheers. He said: “It is hard to eulogise any man… how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice.”

He said Nelson Mandela had taught the world the power of action and the power of ideas, and that it had taken a man like Mr Mandela to free not only the prisoner but also the jailer.

Mr Obama said: “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. While I will always fall short of Madiba (Mr Mandela’s clan name), he makes me want to be a better man.”

On his way to the podium, President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro, an unprecedented gesture between the leaders of two nations that have been at loggerheads for more than half a century.

A White House official later said the two had not planned to meet.

“This wasn’t a pre-planned encounter,” the official said, quoted by AFP news agency.

“Above all else, today is about honouring Nelson Mandela, and that was the president’s singular focus at the memorial service. We appreciate that people from all over the world are participating in this ceremony.”

In his address, Mr Castro paid tribute to Mr Mandela as the “ultimate symbol of dignity and the revolutionary struggle”.

Under his brother, Fidel, Cuba was a staunch critic of apartheid, and Mr Mandela had expressed gratitude for that support.

In his speech, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there was “sorrow for a mighty loss and celebration of a mighty life”.

He said: “South Africa has lost a hero, it has lost a father… He was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example. He sacrificed so much and was willing to give up all he had for freedom and democracy.”

The first speaker, friend and fellow Robben Island inmate Andrew Mlangeni, said Mr Mandela had “created hope when there was none”.

Many people stood in the rain waiting for several hours to get into the stadium, the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani reports from the scene.

She says the crowds were in high spirits – singing and dancing, stomping their feet – and the stadium had the feel of a political rally.

Rather than seeing the rain as a dampener, many in South Africa have welcomed it.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said: “It’s a blessing from the ancestors welcoming a son of the soil.”

One of those attending, Shahida Rowe from Johannesburg, told the BBC: “The core of Mandela’s life was humanity. That is why I am here today and the world is celebrating.

“Thanks to him, I was recognised as a human being.”

Mr Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, arrived at the stadium to huge cheers as she was shown on the big screen.

There were cheers too of “Winnie! Winnie!” for ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who hugged and kissed Graca Machel.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee also made speeches.

The ceremony was closed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who asked the crowd to rise to their feet for a final tribute.

The BBC’s Mike Wooldridge in Johannesburg says the line-up of world leaders is a sign of how South Africa has seen its partners and place in the world since Nelson Mandela became president.

But, he adds, today is as personal as it is political – a recognition that there are lessons for the wider world in everything Nelson Mandela sought to achieve.

British Prime Minister David Cameron attended Tuesday’s memorial, along with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Labour leader Ed Miliband and former British Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major.

Three former US presidents, George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, were also there, as were Francois Hollande of France, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

Other mourners in attendance were Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Sir Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel.

Mr Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria on the following three days.

The state funeral takes place on Sunday in his home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.

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