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Wednesday, 20 September 2006 01:49

Gloria R. Lalumia's World Media Watch for September 20, 2006

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WORLD MEDIA WATCH

1//The Toronto Star, Canada--AFGHAN MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: POLL (Public support for Canada's military role in Afghanistan has dropped "precipitously" as more and more Canadians think troops are fighting an impossible mission, a new poll shows. "We're sending our best people over there with our best equipment. It's a real effort and you know what, the more we do the less we seem to be seeing success," said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research. ... Currently, 49 per cent of Canadians oppose the Afghanistan mission, 38 per cent support it and 12 per cent have no opinion, according to an EKOS poll done for the Toronto Star. "There has been a precipitous decline. For the first time we see more Canadians opposed to the mission than in support of it," Graves said in an interview. In December 2001, support for Canadian participation in military action in Afghanistan was at 62 per cent, with only 18 per cent opposed. By December 2002, 50 per cent supported the mission, with 30 per cent opposed. And support has dropped more than 10 percentage points since early this year, the same time that Canadian troops took on a more dangerous and high profile role in southern Afghanistan. Surprisingly though, opposition isn't driven by concerns about mounting casualties - 16 soldiers have been killed in the last three months alone. Rather, opponents say the mission is unlikely to bring stability and democracy to Afghanistan and fear that it is bringing Canada uncomfortably close to American foreign policy, the poll indicates. ... Despite the public unease about Afghanistan, Harper and his Conservatives don't appear to be paying a political price. "There's a real sort of paradox here," Graves said. "Despite this precipitous decline in support for the mission, it doesn't appear to have had any deleterious impact on Harper's approval ratings or the prospects for this party.")

2//DW-Worlde.de/Deutsche Welle, Germany--GERMANY STRUGGLES TO EXPLAIN FAR-RIGHT ELECTION SUCCESS (Politicians are scrambling to clarify why the far-right NPD won seats in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's state assembly last weekend. But explanations should be replaced by long-term deliberation, say analysts. ... Gideon Botsch from the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam said the election results were to be expected. "We had feared it would happen, so we weren't surprised," said Botsch, an expert on right-wing extremism. According to Botsch, the results were in part due to the party's strategy. For one, the NPD had the help of neo-Nazi comradeships. "The NPD is allied with these groups, who, for example, systematically apply intimidation tactics at events of the major democratic parties," Botsch said. In addition, the NPD took on a very civic appearance. "It's the idea of the nice Nazi from next door," said Toralf Staud, author of the book "Modern Nazis" and a writer on right-wing extremism since 1998. These neo-Nazis have become an integral part of civil society across wide areas. In small towns and villages, right-wing extremists have for the large part taken over civic programs for children and youth, for example. ... There, where the state and its educational facilities are increasingly retreating, where sociopolitical groups such as religious communities are closing down their institutions, neo-Nazis are investing in youth work -- and infiltrating a generation with their ideology.)

3//Mail & Guardian, South Africa--SOMALI GOVT SEEKS HELP AFTER BOMBINGS (The Somali government on Tuesday appealed for international help to investigate a failed bid to assassinate President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, blamed on the al-Qaeda network, which killed 11 people. As authorities interrogated two suspects arrested after the country's first-ever suicide bombing, government spokesperson Abdirahman Mohamed Nur Dinari said they needed foreign expertise to investigate the attack outside the Parliament building in Baidoa. "Our local investigators are already probing the attack, but we really need international help and expertise on the whole exercise," Dinari said. "Since al-Qaeda was involved in the attack, we really do not have the expertise to uncover the whole attack that was well organised by the same groups that are carrying out attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan," the spokesperson for the country's interim government added. ... Officials from the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS), which seized much of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu in June, have also condemned the attempt on Yusuf's life as well ...

4//Asia Times Online, Hong Kong--CHINA OPENS RAILWAYS TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT (One aim of China's economic-reform endeavor is to privatize the state-owned enterprises [SOEs]. Although the reform has been ongoing for more than two decades, a few industries remain firmly in the hands of the state. Railways are one of them. Recently, therefore, China has taken the first steps, though small ones, to open the door for private investment in the state-monopolized railway sector in a bid to boost the development and improve the efficiency of its transport sector. On August 23, Shenzhen Zhongji Industrial Co became the ice-breaker by acquiring for 41.8 million yuan [US$5.2 million] 100% of a state-owned railway company, Luoding Railway Group, which maintains a 62.1-kilometer rail line. ... This is one element of a long-term development plan that will see China expand its railway network to 100,000km by 2020 from the current 74,408km. The expansion would require a total investment of 2 trillion yuan through 2020, with an average annual input of 100 billion. The investment will be front-loaded with the average annual investment estimated at 160 billion yuan up to 2010, according to the Railway Ministry. ... The government wants to boost rail transport because it consumes less fuel than motor-vehicle and air transportation. To implement its ambitious plan, the government decided to allow private companies to invest in railway construction, running railways, and manufacture of railway equipment. In April, it further liberalized the designing, project construction and supervision businesses in the railway industry.)

5//The Moscow Times, Russia--EU, JAPAN ISSUE WARNING ON SAKHALIN (The Natural Resources Ministry's decision to revoke approval of Shell's Sakhalin-2 project provoked sharp criticism Tuesday from the European Union and Japan, amid signs that the move was part of a broader attempt to put a state stamp on foreign-run energy projects. EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs warned against the creation of an unstable investment environment that could halt future energy projects and disrupt global oil supplies. He took "this announcement very seriously indeed," Piebalgs said in a statement, adding that he would soon discuss the issue with Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko. Shinzo Abe, Japan's government spokesman and the man tipped to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later this month, said the decision, which effectively suspends all work on the multibillion-dollar project, could harm diplomatic relations between the two countries, Reuters reported. The Natural Resources Ministry canceled its approval of the Sakhalin-2 project on Monday, citing environmental violations during the construction of an oil and gas pipeline on Sakhalin Island. Shell, with a 55 percent stake in the Sakhalin Energy holding, is the project's operator on behalf of minority shareholders Mitsui and Mitsubishi of Japan.)

* * *

1//The Toronto Star, Canada Sep. 18, 2006

AFGHAN MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: POLL
Half of Canadians oppose troop role
Support dropping sharply: EKOS

Bruce Campion-Smith, Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA-Public support for Canada's military role in Afghanistan has dropped "precipitously" as more and more Canadians thinks troops are fighting an impossible mission, a new poll shows.

"We're sending our best people over there with our best equipment. It's a real effort and you know what, the more we do the less we seem to be seeing success," said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research.

"Maybe we have to be there but, my God, it's ... (an) ambivalent position because it doesn't seem we're going to make any difference."

Currently, 49 per cent of Canadians oppose the Afghanistan mission, 38 per cent support it and 12 per cent have no opinion, according to an EKOS poll done for the Toronto Star.

"There has been a precipitous decline. For the first time we see more Canadians opposed to the mission than in support of it," Graves said in an interview.

In December, 2001, support for Canadian participation in military action in Afghanistan was at 62 per cent, with only 18 per cent opposed. By December, 2002, 50 per cent supported the mission, with 30 per cent opposed. And support has dropped more than 10 percentage points since early this year, the same time that Canadian troops took on a more dangerous and high profile role in southern Afghanistan.

Surprisingly though, opposition isn't driven by concerns about mounting casualties - 16 soldiers have been killed in the last three months alone. Rather, opponents say the mission is unlikely to bring stability and democracy to Afghanistan and fear that it is bringing Canada uncomfortably close to American foreign policy, the poll indicates.

More broadly, Graves said pessimism is infecting Canadians' outlook on the world and fuelling an "incipient isolationism."

"There's a growing sense that problems in places like the Middle East, in Iraq, in Israel are things not tractable, not solvable, that our best interests will (not) achieve real progress in our lifetime," Graves said.

"That's a very depressing sense of futility and hopelessness that seems to infect our outlook."

(SNIP)

The EKOS survey sampled 1,004 Canadians between Sept. 12 and 14 and is considered accurate within 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the Canadian mission is making a difference.

"Afghanistan was really the launching pad for attacks on North American soil that killed Canadian citizens," Harper said in a weekend interview with CBC Radio One's The House.

"We're much safer as Canadians today because we've undertaken this mission and most Afghanis are also safer."

Despite the public unease about Afghanistan, Harper and his Conservatives don't appear to be paying a political price.

"There's a real sort of paradox here," Graves said. "Despite this precipitous decline in support for the mission, it doesn't appear to have had any deleterious impact on Harper's approval ratings or the prospects for this party."

Indeed, while Harper visited troops in Afghanistan in the spring and his government endorsed a two-year extension of mission, Canadians recognize that it was the Liberals who dispatched the troops on the more difficult Kandahar mission in the first place.

On a similar note, public opposition hasn't produced any political return for the New Democrats, who have called for troops to be brought home.

"The evidence seems to be to the contrary ... the NDP are going nowhere," he said.

While the decline in support may be slowed if the mission can go several weeks without new casualties, Graves doubts that public backing will turn around.

2//DW-Worlde.de/Deutsche Welle, Germany 19.09.2006


GERMANY STRUGGLES TO EXPLAIN FAR-RIGHT ELECTION SUCCESS

Politicians are scrambling to clarify why the far-right NPD won seats in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's state assembly last weekend. But explanations should be replaced by long-term deliberation, say analysts.

The debate about right-wing extremism in eastern Germany has been reignited following the success of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in Sunday's elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The NPD won 7.3 percent of the vote, giving it six of the 71 seats in the eastern German state's legislature.

Gideon Botsch from the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam said the election results were to be expected.

"We had feared it would happen, so we weren't surprised," said Botsch, an expert on right-wing extremism.

The "nice Nazi from next door"

According to Botsch, the results were in part due to the party's strategy. For one, the NPD had the help of neo-Nazi comradeships.

"The NPD is allied with these groups, who, for example, systematically apply intimidation tactics at events of the major democratic parties," Botsch said. In addition, the NPD took on a very civic appearance.

"It's the idea of the nice Nazi from next door," said Toralf Staud, author of the book "Modern Nazis" and a writer on right-wing extremism since 1998. These neo-Nazis have become an integral part of civil society across wide areas. In small towns and villages, right-wing extremists have for the large part taken over civic programs for children and youth, for example.

"They are in parents' associations in schools and kindergartens or in sports clubs and use their position there to relay their ideas to the people," Botsch said.

There, where the state and its educational facilities are increasingly retreating, where sociopolitical groups such as religious communities are closing down their institutions, neo-Nazis are investing in youth work -- and infiltrating a generation with their ideology.

German democracy neglects society's perimeter

The election results were also the result of Germany's democratic parties' policies, which increasingly neglect certain areas of society, Botsch said.

According to the latest data report by the Federal Statistics Office, only 38 percent of eastern Germans consider democracy to be the best form of government for Germany. In western Germany, it was 71 percent.

"There are regions in which democratic structures no longer exist," Botsch said. There are no schools, no doctors and no churches. "The people are frustrated and ask themselves, what alternative do we have? The NPD then channels this frustration."

Canvassing made a difference

According to the NPD, it invested 400,000 euros ($508,000) in its election campaign. The NPD in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania got help from Saxony's parliamentary group leader Holger Apfel, an experienced campaigner. Professional "comrades" helped with organization and public relations work.

"This was the most professional election campaign I have ever seen," Staud said. The party had managed to canvas throughout the state, too.

"I saw towns where only NPD posters were hanging," Staud said. "The other parties didn't even go there." Flyers were written in a highly professional manner and in a way that was especially attractive to young people. "The language was snappy and cheeky."

"The major parties don't go into small towns for the few votes there. The NPD does and it adds up," Botsch said. "The NPD was present, and not just with posters, but with concrete people."

(SNIP)

Botsch said that the NPD strategy runs under the slogan: Fight on the street for minds -- and in parliament. In eastern Germany, this strategy has borne fruit.

3//Mail & Guardian, South Africa 19 September 2006 12:54


SOMALI GOVT SEEKS HELP AFTER BOMBINGS

Baidoa, Somalia -- The Somali government on Tuesday appealed for international help to investigate a failed bid to assassinate President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, blamed on the al-Qaeda network, which killed 11 people.

As authorities interrogated two suspects arrested after the country's first-ever suicide bombing, government spokesperson Abdirahman Mohamed Nur Dinari said they needed foreign expertise to investigate the attack outside the Parliament building in Baidoa.

"Our local investigators are already probing the attack, but we really need international help and expertise on the whole exercise," Dinari said.

"Since al-Qaeda was involved in the attack, we really do not have the expertise to uncover the whole attack that was well organised by the same groups that are carrying out attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan," the spokesperson for the country's interim government added.

Suicide bombers blew up two cars on Monday as Yusuf's convoy was leaving Parliament, killing five members of his entourage, including his younger brother Abdulsalam, and six presumed attackers.

At least 18 people, including nine presidential guards, were wounded in the deadly raid in the provincial town of Baidoa, about 250km north-west of the Islamist-held capital of Mogadishu, according to government officials.

Dinari said the government had deployed massive security in the township, and in outlying areas police officers were scouring villages in search of suspects believed to be still at large.

(SNIP)

Late on Monday, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi blamed the attack on "terrorists" organised within the lawless country that has been wracked by anarchy and without a functioning central administration for the past 16 years.

The premier said that in addition to the two under arrest, others were being pursued while Foreign Minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre told reporters in Kenya the incident was linked to the weekend murder of an Italian nun in Mogadishu.

He was referring to the killing on Sunday of Sister Leonella Sgorbati (65), who was gunned down by two men at a charity hospital in the capital amid fury over Pope Benedict XVI's comments last week about Islam.

Officials from the Supreme Islamic Council of Somalia (SICS), which seized much of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu in June, have also condemned the attempt on Yusuf's life as well as the slaying of the nun, for which one suspect is in custody.

(MORE)

4//Asia Times Online, Hong Kong Sept 20, 2006


CHINA OPENS RAILWAYS TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT
By Candy Zeng

SHENZHEN - One aim of China's economic-reform endeavor is to privatize the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Although the reform has been ongoing for more than two decades, a few industries remain firmly in the hands of the state. Railways are one of them.

Recently, therefore, China has taken the first steps, though small ones, to open the door for private investment in the state-monopolized railway sector in a bid to boost the development and
improve the efficiency of its transport sector.

On August 23, Shenzhen Zhongji Industrial Co became the ice-breaker by acquiring for 41.8 million yuan (US$5.2 million) 100% of a state-owned railway company, Luoding Railway Group, which maintains a 62.1-kilometer rail line.

(SNIP)

This is one element of a long-term development plan that will see China expand its railway network to 100,000km by 2020 from the current 74,408km. The expansion would require a total investment of 2 trillion yuan through 2020, with an average annual input of 100 billion. The investment will be front-loaded with the average annual investment estimated at 160 billion yuan up to 2010, according to the Railway Ministry.

Statistics from an industrial-research firm show that China's investment on railway construction exceeded 100 billion yuan in 2005, almost double the 51.6 billion yuan expended in 2004. Railway construction was further accelerated in the first half of 2006 with investment for the first five months amounting to 74.5 billion yuan.

And this year, the Railway Ministry has set a goal of investing 163.3 billion yuan in railway construction across the country. However, the investment in the first eight months of this year totaled just 82.2 billion, fulfilling only 50.4% of this year's target. That means that in the remaining four months, the country needs to pump more than 80 billion yuan of into rail development, which is certainly not an easy job. Accordingly, the Railways Ministry recently held a meeting to urge all construction units to make efforts to fulfill the yearly railway construction plan.

The government wants to boost rail transport because it consumes less fuel than motor-vehicle and air transportation. To implement its ambitious plan, the government decided to allow private companies to invest in railway construction, running railways, and manufacture of railway equipment. In April, it further liberalized the designing, project construction and supervision businesses in the railway industry.

On August 26, three days after the inking of Zhongji's deal, a German company, Business Media China, announced that it had obtained exclusive operation rights for outdoor advertising in railway stations from China Railway Century Media, becoming the first foreign company to get a piece of this business. The German company will handle outdoor advertisements at Beijing West Railway Station, Beijing Central Railway Station, Tianjin Railway Station and Shijiazhuang Station for six years, according to the agreement.

For Zhongji, a Shenzhen-based company founded in 1996 with total consolidated assets of 8.1 billion yuan in 2005, the acquisition of Luoding Railway is an ideal project. "We opt for fee-collecting projects, in particular the long-term ones," said its chairman Cheng Qingbo.

His company is heavily involved in capital-intensive industries such as real estate, toll roads and hydropower stations in Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.

"Few companies have studied the railway industry," said Cheng. Zhongji turned out to be the only bidder after the public tender for the Luoding Railway was announced in mid-July.

(SNIP)

But many industrial analysts are not so optimistic as Cheng.

The major obstacles facing private investors are pricing and dispatching, said Guo Lixin of the China Transportation Association. So far, railway-transport prices and train-dispatching schedules are set by the government. Such official intervention will undermine the operating ability of a private company, increasing investment risks.

(MORE)

5//The Moscow Times, Russia Wednesday, September 20, 2006. Issue 3501. Page 1.

EU, JAPAN ISSUE WARNING ON SAKHALIN
By Miriam Elder, Staff Writer

The Natural Resources Ministry's decision to revoke approval of Shell's Sakhalin-2 project provoked sharp criticism Tuesday from the European Union and Japan, amid signs that the move was part of a broader attempt to put a state stamp on foreign-run energy projects.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs warned against the creation of an unstable investment environment that could halt future energy projects and disrupt global oil supplies. He took "this announcement very seriously indeed," Piebalgs said in a statement, adding that he would soon discuss the issue with Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko.

Shinzo Abe, Japan's government spokesman and the man tipped to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later this month, said the decision, which effectively suspends all work on the multibillion-dollar project, could harm diplomatic relations between the two countries, Reuters reported.

The Natural Resources Ministry canceled its approval of the Sakhalin-2 project on Monday, citing environmental violations during the construction of an oil and gas pipeline on Sakhalin Island. Shell, with a 55 percent stake in the Sakhalin Energy holding, is the project's operator on behalf of minority shareholders Mitsui and Mitsubishi of Japan.

Japan, heavily dependent on energy imports, is to be the top customer for Sakhalin-2, which will be the world's largest liquefied natural gas, or LNG, project once it comes on stream.

The head of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, Claude Mandil, also warned that the move against Shell could deter investment, Reuters reported.

The revoking of environmental approval was the culmination of months of steadily increasing state pressure on project operator Sakhalin Energy, which announced last year that the estimated cost of the project had doubled to $20 billion. Under its production sharing agreement, or PSA, with Sakhalin Energy, the government must wait until investors recoup their costs before taking in revenue from the project.

The move against Shell comes as PSAs increasingly come under fire as the state seeks to maximize revenue from high oil prices.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said Tuesday that PSAs were outdated investment mechanisms, and while the state would continue to honor its three existing PSAs, none would be signed in the future, Reuters reported.

(SNIP)

ExxonMobil has also been under fire for its involvement in Sakhalin-1. The head of Russia's environmental watchdog in the Far East Federal District, Alexander Poleshchyuk, said the terminal should undergo more checks before being given the green light, Reuters reported. Total is the operator of the country's other PSA, the Kharyaga oil project in the Nenets autonomous district.

The Sakhalin Energy PSA was signed in 1993, when the country was in the throes of political and social upheaval and eager to provide a sense of stability to wary foreign investors. The stability of recent years, underpinned by high oil prices, has changed that.

PSAs are most often used to cover high-risk ventures, stipulating their own tax and license regimes and thus protecting investors from changes in volatile national tax law.

"The brutality suggests this is more than just Gazprom entering the project," said Adam Landes, oil and gas analyst with Renaissance Capital investment bank. "It is necessary to say at this juncture that Russia wants to change the economic terms of PSAs.

"These deals were struck a decade ago, when Russia was in a very different position. Russia would not be offering now the terms it offered back then," he said, adding that "this has happened the world over" since oil climbed to more than $60 per barrel.

Russia is the latest country to move toward regaining control of its energy industry, as governments scramble to fill state coffers with the huge windfalls that high oil prices provide.

(SNIP)

"There certainly has been a notable trend around the world toward energy nationalization," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank. "Yet this is something that has been a feature of energy-dependent countries over the decades."

Russia is likely to avoid the inefficiency and underinvestment that have plagued so many countries' nationalized industries by keeping foreign companies around as partners, Weafer said.

While the Kremlin is not seeking outright nationalization of the energy sector, it is trying to ensure that state-run companies have a much bigger say in the industry.

Analysts said the state was unlikely to revoke Shell's license to develop Sakhalin-2, but would rather ensure that state-run gas giant Gazprom ended up with a significant stake in the project.

(MORE)

Copyright 2006, Gloria R. Lalumia

WORLD MEDIA WATCH