Daily Archives: October 8, 2008

Pope says financial crisis shows money an illusion

The tip of the iceberg of Vatican wealth and opulence on display at St Peter’s Basilica

Reuters | Oct 6, 2008

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict said on Monday that the global financial crisis showed that faith in God trumped a lifetime spent pursuing material wealth.

“We see it now in the collapse of the great banks that money disappears, it’s nothing,” the Pontiff said.

The global financial turmoil, the worst since the Great Depression, has wiped away hundreds of billions of euros (dollars) in shareholder wealth and felled banking institutions that just months ago seemed untouchable.


The pontiff, using a biblical metaphor, said people who ignored the word of God to pursue wealth had effectively built their homes on sand instead of on a solid foundation of faith.

It was a possible reference to the collapse of the U.S. housing market, which triggered the financial crisis.

“Whoever builds his life on this reality, on material things, on success … builds (his house) on sand. Only the word of God is the foundation of all reality,” he said.

(Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Sami Aboudi)

China vegetable exports may be contaminated with melamine

Fears Chinese vegies sold in Australia tainted with melamine

AAP | Oct 8, 2008

by Cathy Alexander

CHINESE vegetables sold in Australia could be contaminated with a chemical which has poisoned more than 50,000 babies in China.

Australian food authorities are investigating reports of melamine contamination of vegetables and will complete a safety assessment.

Chinese products imported into Australia include fresh garlic and peas, frozen mixed vegetables, canned mushrooms and tomato paste.

The melamine scandal started in milk products, but international media reports have raised concerns some fruit and vegetables could also be contaminated with melamine from fertilisers or pesticides.

Lydia Buchtmann from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) said Australian investigators were looking into the reports.

“We are taking this seriously,” she said.

“We’re investigating that, talking to overseas agencies and doing a risk assessment.”

Ms Buchtmann said international media reports had raised concerns about Chinese mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce and watercress.

“At this stage, we can find no evidence that they’re unsafe, but it’s certainly something we’re looking into,” she said.

If the FSANZ safety assessment found a problem, then authorities would move to test products.

Ms Buchtmann said a person would have to eat large quantities of contaminated dairy or vegetable produce over some months to suffer ill effects.

David Anderson, chair of the peak industry body Ausveg, said he was aware of concerns about Chinese vegetables.

He called for more rigorous testing of horticultural produce imported into Australia.

“I think there needs to be some additional resources to testing imported products into Australia, to make sure that everybody’s completely okay,” Mr Anderson said.

Australian authorities have withdrawn four products from sale over the melamine scandal; White Rabbit milk-based lollies, Cadbury chocolate eclairs made in China, Lotte Koala Biscuits and Kirin milk tea.

Melamine was used in China to make milk appear higher in protein.

Products contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, which is normally used in plastic products, have killed at least four children and sickened 53,000 in mainland China.

Australia imported $85 million of Chinese fruit and vegetables last financial year, most of which was frozen or canned, according to the industry body Horticulture Australia.

British taxpayers to foot bank bailout bill

British taxpayer to be tied into £50bn bank bailout

The Times | Oct 8, 2008

by Philip Webster and Patrick Hosking

Taxpayers will be committed today to providing more than £50 billion to bail out high street banks in an attempt to avert a cataclysmic failure of confidence.

Alistair Darling was due to tell the City in an early morning announcement today that the sum will be available for “investment” in banks that have demanded help from the Government. The drastic rescue move is designed to help to reassure savers and to kickstart the paralysed credit markets by encouraging banks to lend to each other again.

After meeting Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, Downing Street was forced to make the announcement earlier than it had intended because of fears that a second day of hammering for bank shares had made leading institutions vulnerable. HBOS shares slumped by 42 per cent yesterday, Royal Bank of Scotland was down 39 per cent and Lloyds TSB dived 13 per cent in another torrid day for the banks.

The taxpayer will take a stake in banks that seek assistance through the purchase of preference shares, which the Chancellor will say could mean ordinary people making a profit once the crisis is over. Holders of preference shares are the first in line for the payout of dividends but they do not carry voting rights. The bailout is expected to be structured so that the Government also receives rights to ordinary bank shares at low prices, holding out the prospect of profits if and when banks recover. Mr Darling will also announce extra help from the Bank of England to ensure that the banks have enough cash to run their day-to-day activities.

The collapse of the online bank Icesave, leaving 300,000 British depositors with no certainty that they will get their £4.5 billion of savings back, added to the urgency for a scheme to restore confidence. The part-nationalisation of the banks — “recapitalisation” will be the term used by Mr Darling, while Gordon Brown will refer to a “stability and restructuring plan” — comes amid fresh evidence that the economy is deteriorating quickly because of the drying-up of credit. The British Chambers of Commerce said that Britain was now in recession and faced 350,000 job losses in the next year. Confidence had collapsed in the manufacturing and services sectors, it said, and it joined the CBI and other employer groups in calling for an immediate interest rate cut. The Bank of England’s rate-setting committee begins its regular monthly two-day meeting today and is widely expected to cut its base rate by half a percentage point to 4.5 per cent.

The severity of the seizure in credit markets worldwide was underlined when the US Federal Reserve took the unprecedented step yesterday of offering short-term loans beyond the beleaguered banking sector to large US corporations. A hint from Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, that he was prepared to cut US interest rates failed to lift the gloom. Wall Street dived, the Dow Jones industrial average sliding by 508 points last night to 9,447.11.

Mr Darling’s restructuring scheme has echoes of a successful operation by the Swedish Government in the 1990s to rescue its banks. Putting in taxpayers’ cash means that the equity value to ordinary shareholders will be reduced, which is why the shares have taken a battering in recent days.

While no single bank wants to be the first to take up the Government’s offer, regarding it as an admission of capital weakness, at least four banks — Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and the prospective merger partners Lloyds TSB and HBOS — were inching towards agreement in principle last night. It was not clear whether HSBC would join.

Banks still wanted to see the detail. They want the interest they pay on the preference shares to be as low as possible and the equity rights given to the Government as small as possible.

Ministers are putting the blame for disclosures yesterday morning firmly on the banks, who were accused of briefing the BBC about a meeting between Mr Darling and Barclays, the RBS and Lloyds TSB and other institutions on Monday night. At that gathering Mr Darling was urged to speed up his bailout plans. The leaking of what went on was denounced as irresponsible by Downing Street. For their part, the banks accused Mr Darling of dithering for not going ahead with his announcement earlier.

After the meeting, Mr Darling confirmed that he would be making a statement before the London stock markets opened today and another in the Commons later. It was believed that the first would come at about 7am. Although he gave no details, he said that the aim was to put the banks on “a longer-term sound footing”. The National Economic Council of senior ministers and officials, formed by Mr Brown last Friday as an economic “war Cabinet”, will meet at 8am.

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, reiterated that the Tories would work with the Government, although he added: “We must make sure that any support from the taxpayer is used to help save small businesses from closure and enable families to stay afloat, not to pay the bonuses of bankers. We should be rescuing the banks to rescue the economy, not to rescue the bankers.”

The go-ahead for today’s historic announcement, providing the astonishing spectacle of a Labour government bailing out the banks with taxpayers’ help and Conservative Party support, came at a meeting in Downing Street last night between Mr Brown, Mr Darling, Mr King and Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority.

Mr Darling, Mr King and Lord Turner initially met in No 10 as the tripartite committee responsible for maintaining financial stability before being joined by the Prime Minister. President Bush and Mr Brown had talks yesterday about the need for co-ordination of international efforts to tackle the crisis.

John Cridland, the Deputy Director-General of the CBI, said: “The Chancellor’s much-anticipated announcement of capitalisation will herald the first essential step on the road to financial recovery.”

Martin Slaney, head of derivatives at GFT Global Markets, said that the FTSE 100 index was likely to open 100 points lower today after further heavy falls on Wall Street. “What the market wants, the market is unlikely to get. After the constant ‘whatever is needed’ reassurances from the Government there is every chance the reality does not live up to the hype.”

He said that the “best-case scenario” would be a £50 billion injection of funds and a simultaneous 0.5 per cent interest rate cut. Mr Slaney added: “The market’s loss of confidence is seemingly only going to be resolved with an extensive co-ordinated G7 response.”

James Hughes, an analyst at CMC Markets, expected a small improvement in the markets but feared that it could prove to be short-lived.

McCain linked to Nazis and death squads in Iran-Contra scandal

Retired U.S. Army Major General John Singlaub(front), speaks to reporters as then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen looks on in July 21, 1998. Singlaub founded the controversial U.S. Council for World Freedom, which was dedicated to stamping out communism around the globe. Singlaub says McCain became associated with the organization in the early 1980s.

Organization had ties to former Nazi collaborators, right-wing death squads

MSNBC | Oct 7, 2008

By Stephen Jaffe

WASHINGTON – GOP presidential nominee John McCain has past connections to a private group that supplied aid to guerrillas seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua in the Iran-Contra affair.

McCain’s ties are facing renewed scrutiny after his campaign criticized Barack Obama for his link to a former radical who engaged in violent acts 40 years ago.

The U.S. Council for World Freedom was part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America. The group was dedicated to stamping out communism around the globe.

The council’s founder, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, said McCain became associated with the organization in the early 1980s as McCain was launching his political career in Arizona. Singlaub said McCain was a supporter but not an active member in the group.

‘New guy on the block’

“McCain was a new guy on the block learning the ropes,” Singlaub told The Associated Press in an interview. “I think I met him in the Washington area when he was just a new congressman. We had McCain on the board to make him feel like he wasn’t left out. It looks good to have names on a letterhead who are well-known and appreciated.

“I don’t recall talking to McCain at all on the work of the group,” Singlaub said.

The renewed attention over McCain’s association with Singlaub’s group comes as McCain’s campaign steps up criticism of Obama’s dealings with William Ayers, a college professor who co-founded the Weather Underground and years later worked on education reform in Chicago alongside Obama. Ayers held a meet-the-candidate event at his home when Obama first ran for public office in the mid-1990s.

Obama was roughly 8 years old when Ayers, now at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was working with the Weather Underground, which took responsibility for bombings that included nonfatal blasts at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol. McCain’s vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, has said that Obama “pals around with terrorists.”

In McCain’s case, Singlaub knew McCain’s father, a Navy admiral who had sought Singlaub’s counsel when McCain, a Navy pilot, became a prisoner of war and spent 5 1/2 years in North Vietnamese hands.

“John’s father asked me for advice about what he ought to do now that his son had been shot down and captured,” Singlaub recalled in one of two recent interviews. “I said, ‘As long as you don’t give any impression that you care more about him than you care about any of the other prisoners, he won’t be treated any differently.'”

Covert arms shipments

Covert arms shipments to the rebels called Contras, financed in part by secret arms sales to Iran, became known as the Iran-Contra affair. They proved to be the undoing of Singlaub’s council.

In 1987, the Internal Revenue Service withdrew the tax-exempt status of Singlaub’s group because of its activities on behalf of the Contras.

Elected to the House in 1982 and at a time when he was on the board of Singlaub’s council, McCain was among Republicans on Capitol Hill expressing support for the Contras, a CIA-organized guerrilla force in Central America. In 1984, Congress cut off CIA funds for the Contras.

Months before the cutoff, top Reagan administration officials ramped up a secret White House-directed supply network and put National Security Council aide Oliver North in charge of running it. The goal was to keep the Contras operational until Congress could be persuaded to resume CIA funding.

Singlaub’s private group became the public cover for the White House operation.

Secretly, Singlaub worked with North in an effort to raise millions of dollars from foreign governments.

McCain resignation?
McCain has said previously he resigned from the council in 1984 and asked in 1986 to have his name removed from the group’s letterhead.

“I didn’t know whether (the group’s activity) was legal or illegal, but I didn’t think I wanted to be associated with them,” McCain said in a newspaper interview in 1986.

Singlaub does not recall any McCain resignation in 1984 or May 1986. Nor does Joyce Downey, who oversaw the group’s day-to-day activities.

“That’s a surprise to me,” Singlaub said. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard that. There may have been someone in his office communicating with our office.”

“I don’t ever remember hearing about his resigning, but I really wasn’t worried about that part of our activities, a housekeeping thing,” said Singlaub. “If he didn’t want to be on the board that’s OK. It wasn’t as if he had been active participant and we were going to miss his help. He had no active interest. He certainly supported us.”

British police could kill again, Brazilian’s inquest hears

Britain’s Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, seen here in 2007, told the inquest into the police shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes that British police could shoot dead another innocent person because of the “high risk” of anti-terror operations. (AFP/POOL/File/Stephen Hird)
AP | Oct 7, 2008

LONDON (AFP) — British police could shoot dead another innocent person because of the “high risk” of anti-terror operations, a police commander said Tuesday, at the inquest into the shock killing of an innocent Brazilian.

Cressida Dick, deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, told the inquest into the police shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes that police always attempted to reduce the risk to the public.

But she admitted the risk could be minimised by a “less than perfect extent” when suspected suicide bombers were on the run, making possible a recurrence of the events that led to the shooting of de Menezes.

De Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head at Stockwell Tube station on July 22, 2005 after being mistaken for Hussain Osman, who had unsuccessfully tried to detonate a suicide bomb in a train the day before.


CCTV proves police lied: de Menezes behaved normally before being murdered

Dick was in charge of the control room coordinating the pursuit of the Brazilian electrician by surveillance and firearms officers who mistook him for Osman.

Watched by the victim’s mother Maria Otone in the court, Dick was asked by the family’s lawyer Michael Mansfield if the fatal shooting was a one-off.
She said: “I’m afraid, sir, I do believe that this or something like this could happen again.

“The nature of these operations is that they are incredibly high risk to all concerned.

“And that is because of the nature of the threat that we face from suicide terrorists, and the difficulty that there is in dealing with such a threat and the very fast timescale in which these things can happen.

“Our job is to reduce the risk to everybody as best as we possibly can all the time… but I do fear that in the future a bomber might not be prevented from setting a bomb, and there would be a huge scrutiny of why we did not manage to prevent that.

“Our job is to minimise the risks. Given the huge scale of the risks, we may only be able to do that to a less than perfect extent.”

$2 trillion disappears from American retirement accounts, so far

Retirement accounts have lost $2 trillion so far

AP | Oct 7, 2008


WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans’ retirement plans have lost as much as $2 trillion in the past 15 months — about 20 percent of their value — Congress’ top budget analyst estimated Tuesday as lawmakers began investigating how turmoil in the financial industry is whittling away workers’ nest eggs.

The upheaval that has engulfed financial firms and sent the stock market plummeting is also devastating people’s savings, forcing families to hold off on major purchases and even delay retirement, Peter Orszag, the head of the Congressional Budget Office, told the House Education and Labor Committee.

As Congress investigates the causes and effects of the meltdown, the panel pressed economists and other analysts on how the housing, credit and other financial troubles have battered pensions and other retirement funds, which are among the most common forms of savings in the United States.

“Unlike Wall Street executives, America’s families don’t have a golden parachute to fall back on,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the panel chairman. “It’s clear that their retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis.”

More than half the people surveyed in an Associated Press-GfK poll taken Sept. 27-30 said they worry they will have to work longer because the value of their retirement savings has declined.

Orszag indicated the fear is well-founded. Public and private pension funds and employees’ private retirement savings accounts — like 401(k)’s — lost about 10 percent between the middle of 2007 and the middle of this year, and lost another 10 percent just in the past three months, he estimated.

Private retirement plans may have suffered slightly more because those holdings are more heavily skewed toward stocks, Orszag added.

“Some people will delay their retirement. In particular, those on the verge of retirement may decide they can no longer afford to retire and will continue working,” Orszag said.

A new AARP study found that because of the economic downturn, one in five workers 45 and older has stopped putting money into a 401(k), IRA or other retirement savings account during the past year, and nearly one in four has increased the number of hours he works. More than one-third of these workers have considered delaying retirement, according to the study, which also found that more than half now find it difficult to pay for basic items such as food, gas and medicine.

The hearing came just as workers are receiving — or about to receive — their quarterly retirement savings account statements, which are likely to show disheartening drops in the value of holdings.

Jerry Bramlett, the head of BenefitStreet Inc., a retirement savings plan administration company, said there’s a risk that people will overreact to the bad news by pulling their money out of the accounts, which could add to their potential losses.

“For participants with many years of retirement, a drastic abandonment of equity positions in their retirement account will only serve to lock in as-of-yet-unrealized losses. Markets do go up and down, and 401(k) participants must try to think long-term,” Bramlett said.

Still, he said workers should do their best to diversify their retirement savings accounts and “perhaps consider less volatile investments.”
On the heels of enacting a $700 billion market bailout, lawmakers are searching for ways to help workers who are feeling the ripple effects of the financial crisis.

“What should we be doing to try to find a way to salvage the retirement position of American workers?” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, an opponent of the government rescue plan. Congress, he added, “rushed to protect Wall Street in hopes that some benefits would trickle down to workers.”

The massive losses have already reopened a bitter and long-running debate about what role — if any — the government should play in helping workers save for retirement.

Some experts argue that the hefty tax subsidies that Congress has put in place in recent decades for 401(k) and other worker-contribution accounts have made people’s retirement income less secure by shifting risks, decisions and costs from employers to people who often know little about investing.

“They are fatally flawed,” Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at the New School for Social Research, said of the tax-advantaged plans. “They’re too risky, and it’s not good policy to have workers run their own retirement plan. They want government help.”

Common mistakes workers make include overinvesting in a single stock — often their company’s — and participating in funds that carry large fees or involve excessive risk, the witnesses said.

“You cannot tell the participants at the bottom of your fund prospectus, ‘Warning: Your psychology may lead you to make irrational choices,'” said Christian E. Weller of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The current market turmoil adds to an already difficult retirement savings picture for Americans, who are increasingly shouldering the burden of managing and funding their own company-sponsored retirement savings plans as firms eliminate traditional pensions.

Even before the recent downturn, older Americans were on track to continue working longer. Twenty-nine percent of people in their late 60s were working in 2006, up from 18 percent in 1985, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the next decade, the number of workers who are 55 and older is expected to increase at more than five times the rate of the overall work force, the BLS reported.

Falling home values and now the decimation of much of their savings could plunge older Americans into period of austerity not seen in decades, Miller said: “The fear factor is huge, and they don’t see the availability of resources to them to get well.”

Orszag said the situation has little precedent in American history.
“The period that we’re experiencing is arguably the greatest collapse in confidence that we’ve experienced since the Great Depression,” he said.


Rumsfeld says $2.3 TRILLION Missing from Pentagon

Study: Self-centered narcissists tend to rise to top of power structure

Narcissists Tend to Become Leaders

Narcissists tend to be egotistical types who exaggerate their talents and abilities, and lack empathy for others.

Live Science | Oct 7, 2008

Narcissists like to be in charge, so it stands to reason that a new study shows individuals who are overconfident about their abilities are most likely to step in as leaders, be they politicians or power brokers.

However, their initiative doesn’t mean they are the best leaders. The study also found narcissists don’t outperform others in leadership roles.

Narcissists tend to be egotistical types who exaggerate their talents and abilities, and lack empathy for others. The researchers stress that narcissism is not the same as high self-esteem.

“A person with high self-esteem is confident and charming, but they also have a caring component and they want to develop intimacy with others,” said lead researcher Amy Brunell, a psychologist at Ohio State University at Newark. “Narcissists have an inflated view of their talents and abilities and are all about themselves. They don’t care as much about others.”

She added, “It’s not surprising that narcissists become leaders. They like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extraverted. But the problem is, they don’t necessarily make better leaders.”

Born leaders?

The results, which will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, come from three studies, two with students and the other with business managers.

In one study, 432 undergraduate students completed surveys that measured various personality traits, including aspects of narcissism. Then, the students were put in groups of four and told to assume they were a committee of senior officers of the student union. Their task was to elect next year’s director.

Results showed that students who scored higher on one dimension of narcissism — the desire for power — were more likely to say they wanted to lead the group. The narcissists were also more likely to say they did lead the group discussion and more likely to be viewed as leaders by the other group members.

Another dimension of narcissism — the desire for attention — was not as strongly linked with leadership roles in the groups.

Shipwrecked island experiment

In a similar study, more than 400 students, placed into groups of four, were told to imagine they were shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. They had to choose 15 items from the ship that would best help them survive on the island.

Individuals who scored highest on the power dimension of narcissism again showed the most desire to lead the group discussion, rated themselves as leaders, and were viewed by other group members as the leaders.

To rate leadership abilities, the researchers compared the 15-item lists with one prepared by an expert who has taught survival skills to the U.S. military. Turned out, narcissists did no better than their less self-centered counterparts at choosing survival items.

A third study involved more than 150 business managers enrolled in an executive MBA program at a large southeastern university. The managers were grouped in fours and told to assume the role of a school board deciding how to allocate a large financial contribution from a fictional company.

Two trained observers monitored the group discussions, finding that the MBA students who rated highest in narcissism were most likely to emerge as group leaders. The results held even when other personality traits, such as self-esteem and extraversion, were taken into account.

Narcissists in society

Brunell said she believes the results apply to many parts of life, from the politics of presidential races to Wall Street.

“Many people have observed that it takes a narcissistic person to run for president of the United States,” Brunell said. “I would be surprised if any of the candidates who have run weren’t higher than average in narcissism.”

Wall Street traders could also have a high dose of narcissism, she suggested. “There have been a lot of studies that have found narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision-making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders.”

Brunell does hedge though, saying that not all troubles in Washington and Wall Street can be blamed on narcissists, and of course, you can’t boil everything down to personalities.

Army, Navy and Air Force called out to patrol Thai streets

Thai Air Force military police officers take their position while providing security outside VIP rooms of Don Muang International Airport building where the meeting of Thailand’s Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his cabinet is taking place Friday, Sept. 26, 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday swore in the new government, urging them to work honestly as the country tries to move beyond its political crisis. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

AFP | Oct 7, 2008

BANGKOK (AFP) — Troops patrolled Bangkok’s streets Wednesday and police guarded the prime minister’s residence a day after violent clashes rocked the Thai capital, leaving two people dead and hundreds injured.

Dressed in khaki anti-riot gear, unarmed personnel from the army, navy and air force were deployed outside key government buildings including parliament — focus of Tuesday’s deadly chaos.

Protesters from the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) were quick to blame security forces for the unrest, when police fired tear gas at a crowd of thousands marching on parliament and angry mobs retaliated with gunfire and fighting.

“Our fellow friends died because of Thai police. We will mourn those who have died and are injured,” said PAD spokeswoman Anchalee Paireerak.
Despite the strong military presence, another PAD member, who refused to be named, said the group would fight on.

“We will clear away our tears and we will stand up and fight with one heart and two hands,” she told AFP.

One female protester was killed during the clashes after suffering internal injuries, a doctor from a Bangkok hospital said.

A man was also killed in a car bombing near the protest site, while police said eight of their officers were shot or stabbed.

The unrest followed months of demonstrations aimed at removing Thailand’s elected government over its ties to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a September 2006 coup.

Thailand’s acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is surrounded by military as he leaves from the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters in Bangkok September 14, 2008. Somchai lifted a state of emergency in Bangkok on Sunday, 12 days after it was enforced in response to violent clashes between pro- and anti-government groups. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Thailand’s media described the violence in cataclysmic terms Wednesday — the English-language daily The Nation said the “mini civil war” had created a “bloodbath in Bangkok” — and accused police of aggravating the situation.

“There can be no justification for the authorities to have used such force to disperse the peaceful crowd,” the Bangkok Post wrote.

An army spokesman said police called in the military to help quell protests but insisted there would be no fresh military takeover in Thailand, which has suffered 18 coups since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

“Absolutely the military will not stage a coup,” army chief General Anupong Paojinda told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not good for our country.”

Security was also tight at Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s house in the northern outskirts of Bangkok.

The premier, who has only been in the post for three weeks, has declared he will not resign or declare a state of emergency in the capital — although one of his deputies, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, has already stood down.

The streets around parliament were almost deserted early Wednesday, except for police deployed to sweep the area of debris and about 20 overturned cars left from the clashes.

Schools around parliament were closed, but in the rest of Bangkok, people went to work and continued their daily chores seemingly unaffected by events a day earlier.

Gove rnment medical officials said 428 people were injured in the violence, which came after police tried to disperse thousands of protesters surrounding parliament to try to prevent Somchai from giving his first policy speech.

The address went ahead, but the special parliamentary session ended after two hours and protesters blockaded lawmakers inside, forcing Somchai and five aides to climb a fence to escape the mob, an AFP correspondent said.

Somchai’s People Power Party won elections last December which marked the end of a period of military rule dating from the 2006 coup, but the old power elite in the palace and military resented the return of Thaksin’s allies.

Nepal appoints 3-year-old as new living goddess

Matani Shakya, 3, newly appointed ‘kumari,’ or living goddess in Nepal, looks on as farewell rituals are performed before taking her to kumari house in Katmandu, Nepal, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008. Selected between the ages of 2 and 4, living goddesses are worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. Devotees touch the girls’ feet with their foreheads, the highest sign of respect among Hindus in Nepal. During religious festivals the girls are wheeled around on a chariot pulled by devotees.  (AP Photo/Binod Joshi)

AP | Oct 7, 2008


KATMANDU, Nepal – Hindu and Buddhist priests chanted sacred hymns and cascaded flowers and grains of rice over a 3-year-old girl who was appointed a living goddess in Nepal on Tuesday.

Wrapped in red silk and adorned with red flowers in her hair, Matani Shakya received approval from the priests and President Ram Baran Yadav in a centuries-old tradition with deep ties to Nepal’s monarchy, which was abolished in May.

The new “kumari” or living goddess, was carried from her parents’ home to an ancient palatial temple in the heart of the Nepali capital, Katmandu, where she will live until she reaches puberty and loses her divine status.

She will be worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists as an incarnation of the powerful Hindu deity Taleju.

A panel of judges conducted a series of ancient ceremonies to select the goddess from several 2- to 4-year-old girls who are all members of the impoverished Shakya goldsmith caste.

The judges read the candidates’ horoscopes and check each one for physical imperfections. The living goddess must have perfect hair, eyes, teeth and skin with no scars, and should not be afraid of the dark.

As a final test, the living goddess must spend a night alone in a room among the heads of ritually slaughtered goats and buffaloes without showing fear.

Having passed all the tests, the child will stay in almost complete isolation at the temple, and will be allowed to return to her family only at the onset of menstruation when a new goddess will be named to replace her.

“I feel a bit sad, but since my child has become a living goddess I feel proud,” said her father Pratap Man Shakya.

During her time as a goddess, she will always wear red, pin up her hair in topknots, and have a “third eye” painted on her forehead.

Devotees touch the girls’ feet with their foreheads, the highest sign of respect among Hindus in Nepal. During religious festivals the goddesses are wheeled around on a chariot pulled by devotees.

Critics say the tradition violates both international and Nepalese laws on child rights. The girls often struggle to readjust to normal lives after they return home.

Nepalese folklore holds that men who marry a former kumari will die young, and so many girls remain unmarried and face a life of hardship.