Daily Archives: November 13, 2008

Russia’s Medvedev hails “new Bretton Woods”

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Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gestures during a speech at the Kremlin

Dmitri Medvedev also wants a “new Bretton Woods”

Top News | Nov 11, 2008

by Sahil Nagpal

Leaders meeting in Washington on Saturday to deal with the financial crisis must build the basis of “a new Bretton Woods,” Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said in an interview published Thursday in the French daily Le Figaro.

In reconstructing the world’s economic system, as the 1944 Bretton Woods meeting did, heads of the world’s leading industrial nations must establish “new international credit institutions, a new accounting system, a new risk insurance system,” Medvedev said.

The Russian president said Moscow had already suggested the development of a risk alert system that all countries would set up on their own.

Medvedev said he had already shared his ideas with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

“We share the same vision about the origin of the crisis,” he said. “We must find the solutions to stabilize and reform the system for the long term.”

Saudi king promotes interfaith tolerance to combat terrorism at U.N. forum

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King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia addresses the meeting of the Culture of Peace November 12, 2008 at the United Nations in New York.

Reuters | Nov 12, 2008

By Samia Nakhoul

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told world leaders at a U.N. interfaith meeting on Wednesday that terrorism is the enemy of all religions, calling for a united front to combat it and promote tolerance.

“We state with a unified voice that religions through which Almighty God sought to bring happiness to mankind should not be turned into instruments to cause misery,” the king said, opening a U.N. General Assembly meeting initiated by Riyadh.

“Terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilization. They would not have emerged except for the absence of the principle of tolerance.”

The two-day forum marks a new direction for Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, whose austere “Wahhabi” Islam came in for criticism after the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the United States, Riyadh’s main ally and guarantor of security.

Fifteen of the 19 Arabs who killed some 3,000 people by flying planes into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon near Washington were Saudis, acting in the name of Saudi-born al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Since then, the Saudi monarch has sought to improve the image of a system in which the royal family rules in alliance with a powerful conservative clerical establishment.

Throughout history, Abdullah told the forum, conflicts over religious and cultural issues had led to intolerance, “causing devastating wars and bloodshed.”

“Human beings were created as equals and partners on this planet,” he said. “Either they live together in peace and harmony or they will inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred.”

U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and leaders and diplomats from some 60 other countries are taking part in the gathering.

Israeli President Shimon Peres seized the rare chance of sharing a forum with Abdullah to directly address him, praising his words and a Saudi Middle East peace initiative. Riyadh has no ties with the Jewish state and its officials shun Israelis.

“Your majesty, the king of Saudi Arabia, I was listening to your message. I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people. It’s right, it’s needed, it’s promising,” Peres said.

“The initiative’s portrayal of our region’s future provides hope to the people and inspires confidence in the nations.”

The 2002 initiative promotes the formula of Israel trading occupied Arab land in return for normal relations.

PROMOTING HARMONY

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also praised Abdullah, calling the meeting “a truly inspiring initiative for global harmony.”

An international effort was needed to confront a rising tide of communal strife and religious extremism, Ban said.

“Extremist ideologies are on the rise. Societies are more polarized. Anti-Semitism remains a scourge. Islamophobia has emerged as a new term for an old and terrible form of prejudice,” the U.N. chief said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah said it was impossible to talk about interfaith harmony without resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“I can think of no more effective way to ease East-West and interfaith tensions than to end this divisive conflict,” he said.

The forum has come under criticism from human rights groups who say it gives Saudi Arabia a platform to promote religious tolerance abroad while imposing discrimination at home.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, forbids public non-Muslim worship and imposes gender segregation and death sentences by public beheadings. Its own minority Shi’ite Muslims face discrimination.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush believes “that the king of Saudi Arabia has recognized that they have … a long way to go and that he is trying to take some steps to get there.”

A string of Arab leaders said Islam was falsely accused of backing terrorism. They said the religion calls for moderation and tolerance and eschews extremism, violence and bigotry.

“As leaders and peoples, we must assume our historical responsibilities to examine our painful reality through a serious and sincere dialogue between people, religions and cultures,” Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said.

Diplomats said that to avoid possible disputes, the meeting was expected to end with a non-binding oral statement by the General Assembly president rather than a written declaration.

$9 million funeral for princess comes amid tug-of-war over Thai monarchy

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The late Thai Princess Galyani Vadhana, whose body will be cremated at a funeral costing US $9 million

Thailand’s monarchy is protected by some of the strictest lese majeste laws in the world preventing the royal family from insult, meaning any discussion of the palace’s role in politics is stifled.

AFP | Nov 13, 2008

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand’s political upheaval may briefly halt for the funeral this weekend of the king’s sister, but the royal event comes at a time of rare tussles over the palace’s loyalties, analysts say.

Princess Galyani died of cancer in January this year aged 84, and from Friday Thais will be asked to dress in black for three days, while television stations will be urged to keep their output tasteful.

This austerity will contrast with a nine-million dollar cremation ceremony, with thousands of soldiers accompanying Galyani’s remains to a gilded funeral pyre built from scratch in central Bangkok.

“It all adds up to a sort of Buddhist deification, which is of course part of the construction of the Thai Buddhist monarchy,” said Paul Handley, author of a biography of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, “The King Never Smiles”.

The funeral comes at a time of widening chasms in Thai society, as a protest group — the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) — continues its street campaign to bring down the government elected in December 2007.

“(The PAD) claims the defence of the crown as its main platform so it cannot morally intervene or act up at this very important royal event,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

The PAD says the ruling People Power Party is too close to Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted premier they accuse of corruption.

Thaksin’s enormous popularity with the rural population, who twice voted him in, infuriated Thailand’s traditional power base in the palace, military and bureaucracy — the backbone of the PAD’s support.

Draping themselves in yellow T-shirts to show loyalty to the deeply-revered king — yellow here represents Monday, the day of the king’s birth — PAD supporters claim they are protecting the monarchy from alleged attack by Thaksin and his allies.

When two protesters were killed and nearly 500 people injured after clashes with police in Bangkok on October 7, the king’s wife Queen Sirikit donated thousands of dollars towards their medical expenses.

She also attended the funeral of one of the people killed — a move protesters hailed as proof of royal support.

“The inference to royal backing and the royalist support has never been so blatant,” Thitinan told AFP.

Thailand’s monarchy is, however, protected by some of the strictest lese majeste laws in the world preventing the royal family from insult, meaning any discussion of the palace’s role in politics is stifled.

David Streckfuss, an American historian of the Thailand’s lese majeste laws, said that 32 such cases were currently being investigated by police — the largest number in decades.

“A lot of the dialogue occurring is centred around the question of the other side’s loyalty to the monarchy,” he said.

“It is more difficult to get to the reality of whatever the situation is because everyone needs to speak in coded language.”

King Bhumibol has over the decades cultivated an image as a constitutional monarch above political tussles, only wading into politics in the 1970s and in 1992, ordering military dictatorships to end bloody crackdowns.

The only indication of his views about Thaksin came in April 2006 after the first round of PAD protests, when the king gave a rare address implying that recent elections were undemocratic. The courts swiftly annulled the poll.

When the military overthrew Thaksin five months later, they claimed to be protecting the monarchy, although the king’s top adviser Prem Tinsulanonda always denied any royal backing of the putsch.

As the current PAD protests drag on with no end in sight, the king has so far stayed silent.

“King Bhumibol seems to be less involved right now, and his top adviser General Prem and Queen Sirikit appear to be the main voices from the palace,” said Handley, whose book is banned in Thailand.

The king’s exalted status and increasing age are also giving rise to a largely unspoken worry about what will happen when his reign comes to an end.

The king was hospitalised last year, causing great concern to a nation that has relied on his moral guidance during his 62-year reign.

“The setting sun of the king’s long reign is the background against which the battle of attrition for Thailand’s soul is taking place,” Thitinan wrote in a recent essay for the academic “Journal of Democracy”.

Mediterranean Union Chooses Royal Palace in Barcelona as Headquarters

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The headquarters will now be housed in the Palace of Pedralbes

Deutsche Welle | Nov 4, 2008

The Spanish port city of Barcelona will become the headquarters for the Mediterranean Union, it was announced on Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit announced the location of the new union’s main office on Tuesday, Nov. 4, in Marseille.

Agreement on what had been a bone of contention among the 43 members of the union was reached during the two-day meeting of foreign ministers and other representatives from European Union members and Mediterranean states.

The meeting was held in the French city of Marseille because France currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.

Royal accommodations

Malta and the Tunisian capital, Tunis, had also been in the running to host the group’s secretariat, which will bring status and jobs to the city. Tunis, the early favorite, might have proved too controversial because of the country’s dubious human rights record.

The headquarters will now be housed in the 17th-century Palace of Pedralbes, on the grounds of which stands a fountain created by the legendary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

Arab League won’t get a vote

Kouchner said the foreign ministers had also agreed to allow the Arab League to participate at all future meetings of the group, but without any voting rights.

“The role of the Arab League was a particularly hard nut to crack,” the French foreign minister told journalists.

Egypt’s Gheit, however, called the decision to allow the Arab League to sit in on meetings “a historic moment.”

Israel had lobbied against a more influential role for the Arab League, and reminded delegates to the meeting that not all of its members were situated on the Mediterranean.

France, Egypt to act as co-presidents

France and Egypt are to hold the union’s co-presidency for two years, even though the Czech Republic will assume the EU presidency on Jan. 1.

“We need stability,” Kouchner said.

It was also decided that the Union for the Mediterranean’s general secretary is to come from a southern country, and that he or she would have five deputies, including one Palestinian and one Israeli.

The post was not filled, but Kouchner suggested that a Tunisian could be named.