Senin, 12 Desember 2011

U.N. estimates 5,000 killed in Syrian uprising

(CNN) -- As explosions and gunfire continued to ripple in Syria, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights on Monday raised the death toll from the Damascus government's crackdown on anti-regime activists to close to 5,000 people.

"This situation is intolerable," Navi Pillay said in a briefing for the U.N. Security Council.

The same day that Pillay spoke, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a resident of Homs -- an opposition hotbed and frequent site of violence in recent months -- reported that a gas pipeline exploded near the city, following by gunfire and circulating military airplanes.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, played up local elections Monday as an expression of "democracy and free will." Yet the Homs resident said there was no evidence of voting in that city. Instead, this witness reported nonstop shooting and bombardments.

Such violence is nothing new in Syria, with Pillay reporting more than 200 people have died in the last 10 days and "the Syrian population continues to live in fear of further violent repression."

The Syrian government, meanwhile, has consistently blamed the violence on "armed terrorist" gang members and denied any efforts to target peaceful civilians.

CNN cannot independently confirm events because the Syrian government restricts access of international media to the country.

Pillay said Monday that "the nature and scale of abuses" indicate that Syrian forces likely committed "crimes against humanity." Citing reliable sources, she said more than 300 of the dead have been children "killed by state forces."

Several defectors from military and security forces said they got orders "to shoot unarmed protesters without warning," according to Pillay.

"Independent, credible and corroborated accounts demonstrate that these abuses have taken place as part of a widespread and systematic attack on civilians," she said.

Homs has been a regular flash point. As nightfall arrived Monday, many city residents went to bed afraid the steady waves of violence could soon give way to a historic siege.

Opposition figures said the Syrian government had warned people in Homs to stop anti-government protests, hand in weapons and surrender defecting military members by Monday night -- or face attack by government forces.

Syrian forces gave a 72-hour warning, said Lt. Col. Mohamed Hamdo of the Free Syrian Army, an opposition group of defected Syrian military personnel. Activists on the ground said the ultimatum was issued Friday for Homs.

The government has not acknowledged any deadline for Homs in state-run media.

Hamdo said there are concerns about a repeat of what happened in 1982, when Syria's military -- acting under orders from then-President Hafez al-Assad, father of current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad -- launched an assault on the city of Hama, killing thousands.

"People are very afraid," said Wissam Tarif, a human rights activist in Beirut, Lebanon, with the organization Avaaz, who is in touch with people in Syria.

There are enough troops around Homs "to take over the city," he said, and casualties have been increasing "in very big numbers" over the past couple of days. Hamdo said the military has dug trenches around Homs and largely cut it off.

"There is no electricity, water, and the communication lines are much worse. The food supply is also decreasing, mainly because little food is going in," he said.

The Syrian government denied reports of water and electricity being out in the city, according to a SANA report.

In fact, besides a story about seven "army, security and police martyrs" being buried Monday, state-run media did not report much on such dire conditions or violence.

Rather, state TV painted a picture of normalcy, with reports of local elections under way across the country.

SANA noted that more than 3,000 candidates are vying for seats in the Homs region alone. It billed the elections as part of the "process of building institutions, promoting democracy and achieving the comprehensive reform process led by President Bashar al-Assad."

Activist groups, though, offered a different story.

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists in the country, said Monday the Syrian army and security forces killed 21 people, including four women and three children. Thirteen of the deaths were in Homs, three were in Hama, three in Damascus suburbs and two in Idlib.

And fierce clashes broke out between security forces and defectors in the cities of Daraa and Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from people in different parts of the country.

Hamdo, from the Free Syrian Army said, "We conducted an operation late last night against the Syrian forces in Idlib and killed eight of them and injured 22. Two of our men are critically injured."

He also said Syrian forces were conducting mass arrests of shop owners who shut their stores Sunday as part of a nationwide anti-government strike.

The Syrian government, via SANA, on Sunday quoted people saying there was no strike and no sign of a strike.

The last nine months has seen a steady stream of clashes, amid reported government push-back against activists demanding democratic elections and the end of al-Assad's regime. Al-Assad has been in power since 2000; his father ruled Syria for three decades.

World leaders and diplomats have widely condemned Syria's crackdown and called on it to halt violence against the opposition.

The Arab League announced it will hold emergency meetings this week in Cairo. In a statement on Egypt's state-run MENA news agency, an Arab League official said leaders will "discuss the Arab response to a message from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to approve the signing of an agreement on an Arab League observing mission to Syria with conditions."

Pillay's report especially drew strong responses from representative countries' ambassadors to the United Nations.

Britain's ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, called it "the most horrifying briefing that we've had in the Security Council over the last two years," citing the thousands of deaths and "tens of thousands of detentions, rapes, torture (and) violations of abuses right across the system by the Syrian regime.

German Ambassador Peter Wittig said his country is "shocked and appalled" by the U.N. human rights branch's view of the situation, calling it "unbearable" that the Security Council appears "condemned to remain silent on Syria."

"We share the assessment that the Syrian security forces have committed crimes against humanity this year," he said. "And we believe that the Syrian authorities have failed their international obligations of human rights law."

China Says Mulling Seychelles Naval Hosting Offer

Beijing says it may accept an offer from the Seychelles to host its navy ships, in a further sign of the Chinese military's expanding global reach.

A Defense Ministry statement said the Indian island nation's government invited Chinese ships to visit for rest and resupply. It said China will consider the offer.

China has contributed ships to a multinational force conducting anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia since late 2008. Those vessels have visited various ports to allow their crews to rest and to take on supplies, including in Yemen and Oman on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

The Chinese navy has grown in recent years from a coastal protection force to one spanning the globe.

Gingrich, Hunstman debate affably in N.H.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Newt Gingrich took a respite Monday from battling with Mitt Romney for the top spot on the GOP campaign totem pole to engage in something more to his liking: an affable foreign policy debate with Jon Huntsman.

The event between the former Utah governor and former House Speaker at St. Anselm College in Manchester, billed as a Lincoln-Douglas style debate, was more of a friendly discussion between a former ambassador and former professor.

At one point, Huntsman praised Gingrich for being "a great historian" - a kinder description than he offered at a Sunday media availability, when he dismissed Gingrich as a "professor" to Huntsman's superior "practitioner."

Disagreements were downplayed. When asked about dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran, Huntsman reiterated his standard answer: "All options need to be on the table."

Gingrich, on the other hand, advocated regime change, "because there's no practical scenario in which you can take out their nuclear weapon systems without them rebuilding them."

"A movement which recruits its own children to learn how to be suicide bombers," Gingrich said, "and sends them into a bus station or into a mall or into a restaurant to blow themselves up in order to kill you, is a movement which with nuclear weapons would use them in a heartbeat, because there's no effective deterrent."

Gingrich added: "If you are an Israeli prime minister, and you remember the Holocaust, and you think about the death of millions of Jews, and you look at the idea that two or three nuclear weapons is a holocaust -- Israel is a very small country, very urban population; no more than three nuclear weapons would be required to equal a holocaust -- and you say to yourself, 'Am I going to take the risk of presiding over the second holocaust, which would mean for all practical purposes virtually the end of Judaism,' you're not going to take the risk."

In remarks to reporters following the debate, Huntsman defended his decision not to engage Gingrich further on Iran.

"Well, he spoke to regime change; I spoke to a missed opportunity in terms of fall of 2009 where he missed an opening with the so-called Persian Spring," Huntsman said. "I think we're talking about the same thing in that regard."

Huntsman declined to address a question about whether he agreed with Gingrich's claim during the debate that if Israel was destroyed by nuclear weapons, it would end Judaism on the planet. But the former Utah governor said he appreciated the debate's format.

"We ought to have more like it," he said. "In fact, I'd like to challenge the other candidates to a similar sit-down; I'd like to challenge Gov. Romney to a sit-down like this. I think it's great for the voters, here in New Hampshire particularly, because we've got a primary right around the corner."

Making good on his remarks, Huntsman's campaign subsequently released a copy of an invitation it sent to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades asking the former Massachusetts governor to engage in a similar debate. There was no immediate response from Romney's campaign.

iPad 3 to Launch Within Months

iPad 2 successor possibly to hit stores as early as February
While this can be lumped squarely in the "unconfirmed" column, rumors have begun swirling about the possibility of Apple's next-generation tablet, the iPad 3, launching within the next "three to four months."
Anonymous sources in the supply chain are cited by DigiTimes saying that the parts and components for the iPad 3 are being delivered to OEM contractors while reducing deliveries for the iPad 2.
"OEM production of iPad 2 will remain high at 14-15 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011 but decline to 4-5 million units in the first quarter of 2012, paving the way for the launch of the new iPads," DigiTimes writes.
The rumors are bolstered by further reports from a Chinese Commercial Times report that says Foxconn will begin production on the new models in January, and increasing production by February.
The aforementioned anonymous supply-chain sources say that anywhere from 9.5 to 9.8 million units of the iPad 3 will be produced in Q1 of 2012.
Another report from last week, this one from the L.A. Times, cited February as the target launch date, so the new timeframe isn't too far off.
According to the Times, the iPad 3 will be similar to its predecessor, but will include Apple's retina display, doubling the resolution found on the current model.
The original iPad launched in April 2010. The iPad 2 launched in March 2011. If Apple's 11-month trend for next generation of its popular tablet continues, February 2012 would be the target.
With increased competition in the tablet market from the likes of Microsoft and additional Android offerings, Apple might be feeling a sense of urgency to stay ahead of the curve if it wants to hold on to its tablet.

Gene therapy helps blood-clotting for hemophiliacs

ATLANTA – In what's being called a landmark study, researchers used gene therapy to successfully treat six patients with severe hemophilia, a blood-clotting disorder.

The study was preliminary and involved only six patients, and other promising early attempts to use gene therapy against hemophilia ultimately failed. But a single infusion using the new treatment worked in some patients for more than a year, boosting their clotting ability significantly.

"I think this is a terrific advance for the field. It's a good lesson in terms of don't give up on good ideas," said Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of genetic medicine at New York City's Weill Cornell Medical College,

It's "truly a landmark study," said Dr. Katherine Ponder, a Washington University School of Medicine physician. She praised the research in an editorial that accompanies the study's publication in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research also was being presented Saturday at an American Society of Hematology conference in San Diego.

Hemophilia is an inherited, potentially life-threatening disorder affecting mostly males. Their blood doesn't clot properly because of a faulty gene.

In severe cases, they can spontaneously start bleeding internally, even in the brain. Internal bleeding in the joints leads to debilitating movement problems and intense pain.

Past gene therapy experiments on hemophiliacs improved blood-clotting for only a few weeks. "We couldn't make it last," said Val Bias, chief executive of the National Hemophilia Foundation.

Experts said the new method needs to be tested on many more patients to confirm whether it's effective and prove there are no risks. Even if all goes right, it's still several years away from being available to most patients.

Since the late 1960s, doctors have given hemophiliacs infusions of clotting proteins. It's been a success, increasing their average lifespan to 63. But for severe cases, treatment can involve two or three infusions every week and cost more than $250,000 annually.

The new study was led by researchers at the University College London Cancer Institute and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. All six of the patients in the study were men seen in London who had severe forms of type B hemophilia.

The six men each received a single, 20-minute infusion of healthy genetic material delivered by a virus found in monkeys. Viruses are often used to transport DNA into cells. Each saw the amount of clotting proteins in their blood increase from less than 1 percent of normal levels to at least 2 percent, and in one case as much as 11 percent.

That may not seem like a lot, but it was enough to allow all the men to ease back on the number of regular treatments they needed, and four stopped conventional treatment altogether.

It's not yet clear how risky the treatment is. In one patient, the level of liver enzymes shots up to five times normal levels. It did not cause symptoms but there are concerns about liver inflammation and he was treated with steroids. Researchers noted it's possible the treatment could trigger hepatitis in some patients.

Why Fewer Women (And Me) Would Choose Breast Reconstruction After A Mastectomy

According to a new study, fewer women today are choosing to undergo breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, mostly due to insurance reasons, but even if my insurance covered it, I wouldn’t opt for it based on what I have seen.

Revealed at the recent Breast Cancer Symposium in San Antonio, the findings showed that women with an earlier stage of breast cancer were more likely to have breast reconstruction, while those with a more advanced stage were less likely to undergo the surgery. In fact, fewer than one in four women with invasive cancer now opts for reconstruction, while more than one third with early stage cancer chooses the procedure.

Those who choose reconstruction tend to be younger, urban women. Females over 50, along with blacks and rural residents were less likely to undergo the surgery. Not surprising, insurance also plays a big role in who gets reconstruction. Those most likely to get it were covered under their commercial health insurance. The procedure is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, although there is sometimes a co-pay which can deter women from doing this. And with the cost of reconstruction tripling over the last decade, this can leave many women without a choice.

But, even if my insurance did cover this, based on watching two close friends undergo this procedure during the last year, it’s not something I would agree to do. True, past studies have shown improved psychological advantages with having breast reconstruction, and this is certainly something that is a very personal for women. Some women say their breasts are very important to them and their sexuality and the way they feel about themselves, and that’s definitely understandable. Other said they feel more empowered and “whole” once their breasts are reconstructed, which is also important. But all of this comes with some pretty big risks.

One friend who underwent a double mastectomy endured months of painful complications before and after her bilateral surgery. She suffered from infections and allergic reactions to the medications and was out of work for three months. Even after the surgery was completed and she was feeling somewhat normal again, she admitted that if she had to do it all over, she would not have chosen the surgery. My other friend, who has two young children, was in and out of the hospital three times after her procedure due to tissue breakdown and then an implant rupture. She had to have a second surgery to replace the ruptured implant, all of which added several weeks to her recovery (something that was really difficult for her while trying to be a mom). In addition, both women had bruising and pain that lasted longer than expected and left them housebound–not to mention self-conscious about the skin surrounding their new breasts.

Maybe it’s because I’m pretty small-busted to begin with, but after facing months or years of breast cancer treatment (which I am watching my mother go through now), I would not choose to extend the amount of time in recovery. Breasts are just not that important to me. But that’s just me. What would you do?

Intel cuts revenue forecast by $1bn

Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker by sales, said its fourth-quarter revenue would miss forecasts because of a shortage of hard disk drives.

The company cut its forecast for revenue in the October through December period to $13.7bn, plus or minus $300m, from an earlier estimate of $14.7bn, plus or minus $500m. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had also predicted revenues of $14.7bn.

Intel cited a shortage in the supply of hard disks, which has resulted in computer manufacturers reducing inventories and cutting back on microprocessor purchases. The company is the leading producer of microprocessor chips, which perform the central processes of computers.

About one-third of the world’s hard disk drive production is located in Thailand, which was hit by devastating flooding in recent months. In November, many computer makers said they expected fourth-quarter sales would be affected by the disruption to their supply chains.

Intel said on Monday: “The company expects hard disk drive supply shortages to continue into the first quarter, followed by a rebuilding of microprocessor inventories as supplies of hard disk drives recover during the first half of 2012,.” However, the company added that PC sales were expected to rise in the fourth quarter from the third quarter.

Intel also cut its forecast for gross margin in the quarter from 65 per cent to 64.5 per cent.

The company’s shares were down 4.7 per cent to $23.84 in early trading in New York. Intel’s stock had risen 30 per cent over the past three months, helped by strong growth in chips. Rising demand for PCs in emerging markets have contributed significantly to that growth.

Syrians close shops, schools in strike aimed at raising economic pressure on Assad regime

BEIRUT — Syrians closed their businesses and kept children home from school in several parts of the country Monday in a show of civil disobedience against the regime as a new and fierce round of clashes between troops and army defectors spread, activists said.

Amid the violence, President Bashar Assad’s regime pushed ahead with municipal elections that the opposition has dismissed as a meaningless concession that falls far short of their demands for Assad to give up power.

A man flashes the victory sign during a protest demanding the release of Syrian refugee Ahmed al-Shureiqi in front of the Syrian Embassy in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. The Syrian Embassy says a dozen of its nationals living in Jordan have beat up consulate employees, wounding at least two diplomats and several others, including a Syrian security guard. An Embassy statement says its guards have arrested one of the attackers, identified as Syrian refugee Ahmed al-Shureiqi.

A call by opposition activists for an open-ended general strike starting from Sunday, if widely heeded, could place added economic pressure on Assad’s regime at a time when it is already struggling with growing international sanctions and isolation.

A resident of Homs, the epicenter of the uprising, said only shops selling essential goods were open Monday.

“Only bakeries, pharmacies and some vegetable shops are open,” he said, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

The opposition wants the strike to remain in force until the regime pulls the army out of cities and releases thousands of detainees. And there were signs it was being widely observed in particular in areas that are centers of anti-government protest.

Most shops and schools were shut Monday in the restive city of Homs and parts of the southern province of Daraa and the northwestern region of Idlib near the border with Turkey, activists said.

On Sunday, the activist group called the Local Coordination Committees said security forces were breaking into shops in Daraa province closed for the strike in an attempt to force them to open. Residents in the capital, Damascus, said business continued as usual on Sunday and Monday with shops, schools and other businesses operating normally.

Assad has spent years trying to open up Syria’s economy, which helped boost a new and vibrant merchant class even as the regime’s political trappings remained unchanged. If the economy continues to collapse, Assad could find himself with few allies inside the country.

Still Assad has refused to buckle under Arab and international pressure to step down and has shown no sign of easing his crackdown. Economic sanctions, however, could chip away at the regime in the long-run and erode his vital support base in the business community.

Activists said a new round of fierce clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors began Sunday with a major battle in the south and spread to new areas on Monday, raising fears the conflict is spiraling toward civil war.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says new clashes between soldiers and defectors were reported Monday in Idlib in the north, and that fighting continued for a second day in southern Daraa province.

On Sunday, army defectors set several military vehicles ablaze in a prolonged battle in Daraa province.

The 9-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad has grown increasingly violent in recent months as defecting soldiers fight back against the army and once-peaceful protesters take up arms to protect themselves against the military assault.

The U.N. says more than 4,000 people have been killed since March. The revolt has raised concerns of a regional conflagration, given Syria’s strategic role in the Middle East with alliances in Iran and with the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon

State media reported that voting started in scheduled municipal elections, but witnesses say turnout was low. The opposition does not consider the vote a legitimate concession by the regime because it coincides with the deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The regime had touted the vote as a reform measure because some new rules were introduced recently allowing more people to run in the election.

“The number of voters is very small,” said Mohamed Saleh, an activist in Homs. He said security in the city was very tight and people were too scared to go out. “Even in normal days, people did not give much attention to municipal elections,” he said.

Since the uprising began, Assad has made several gestures of reform. But after nine months, the opposition is demanding nothing less than the downfall of the regime.

It is almost impossible to verify events in Syria, because the regime has banned most foreign journalists and prevented local reporters from moving freely. Accounts from activists and witnesses, along with amateur videos posted online, provide key channels of information.

Billionaire to Challenge Putin in Presidential Race

MOSCOW—Russian billionaire tycoon and Nets basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov Monday said he will run against Vladimir Putin in next year's presidential election.

Mr. Prokhorov's announcement to a room full of journalists came eight days after Russia's parliamentary election, whose results are being criticized and have led to widespread protests. In September, Mr. Prokhorov gave up his bid to lead a pro-business Just Cause party in the parliamentary poll and accused the Kremlin of trying to turn him into a "puppet."

Russian tycoon and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov on Monday announced his intention to run against Vladimir Putin in next year's presidential election.

"These past two-and-a-half months, my colleagues and I have been quietly and calmly working to build an infrastructure that will allow us to gather two million signatures," Mr. Prokhorov said. Under Russian law, Mr. Prokhorov has to collect the signatures to face Mr. Putin and other presidential candidates from parties with parliamentary representation.

Mr. Prokhorov said the current parliament is filled with those who practice a "cheap populism" that will eventually bankrupt Russia. His own party, Mr. Prokhorov said, will be one of "long-term, bottom-up development" and will be focused on the country's emerging middle class.

Mr. Prokhorov didn't outline any concrete positions, nor did he say what the name of his party would be. "If you have any suggestions, please send them," he said.

Mr. Prokhorov hasn't yet gained significant public support, according to polls. At the end of July, 9% of Russians had a positive view of Mr. Prokhorov, while 10% had a negative view, according to the Public Opinion Foundation. In September, only 3% of respondents to a Levada Center poll said Mr. Prokhorov's speeches were memorable, compared with 31% who found Mr. Putin's speeches memorable.

Mr. Prokhorov said he has met with former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, and while they "share many positions," the two have decided to not work together. Mr. Kudrin, who has worked for years with Mr. Putin, has said he was offered to head the Just Cause party earlier this year but declined. Mr. Kudrin was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev in September, after the two publicly clashed over budget spending.

Mr. Prokhorov also said he would limit criticism of the ruling United Russia party in his campaign, promising to offer "10% criticism, and 90% solutions."

"I'm totally against revolution," he said. "All revolutions in Russia have been bloody. I'm for evolution."

When asked if he feared sharing the fate of former Yukos Oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has seen his company broken up and is currently serving prison time after challenging Mr. Putin, Mr. Prokhorov said: "I did not do anything illegal and have nothing to be afraid of."

Mr. Prokhorov, who owns stakes in OAO Polyus Gold and United Co. Rusal PLC said there is no basis for denying parole to Mr. Khodorkovsky.

Euro Falls After Moody’s Says Summit Offered Few New Measures

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The euro fell the most in two weeks versus the dollar as Moody’s Investors Service said it will review the ratings of European Union nations after last week’s summit failed to produce decisive steps to end the debt crisis.

The dollar and yen strengthened against a majority of their most-traded counterparts as investors sought safer assets on concern crisis-fighting efforts are failing to stop European borrowing costs from rising. Sweden’s krona weakened as stocks declined amid reduced demand for higher-yielding investments. China’s yuan appreciated after the nation’s central bank signaled the currency will be allowed to trade more freely.

“The summit didn’t provide any closure,” said Mark McCormick, a currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York. “Another development in Europe surrounding the ongoing euro-zone debt crisis is just bringing down everything that’s correlated with Europe.”

The euro fell 1.1 percent to $1.3235 at 8:42 a.m. in New York, the most since Nov. 23. The currency slid 0.8 percent to 103.11 yen, and declined 0.8 percent to 84.78 U.K. pence after reaching 84.75 pence, the lowest level since March 2. The dollar advanced 0.3 percent to 77.90 yen.

Euro Path

The euro has fallen 1.4 percent in the past month, the biggest loser among 10 developed-nation currencies according to Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Indexes. The dollar gained 2.8 percent, the best performer, and the yen advanced 1.8 percent.

Italian bonds slid as the nation sold 7 billion euros ($9.3 billion) of one-year bills to yield 5.95 percent, compared with an average 2.70 percent in the past five years. The securities fell even after the European Central Bank was said to have bought the nation’s debt. Italy has to repay about 53 billion euros in the first quarter, about a third of the region’s maturing bonds.

Sweden’s krona fell to the weakest this month versus the dollar as the Stoxx Europe 600 Index slid 0.9 percent.

“The Swedish krona is a very cyclical currency and we have a bit of risk aversion in the equity market today, which adds to its downside,” said Niels Christensen, chief currency strategist at Nordea Bank AB in Copenhagen.

Krona Drops

The krona dropped 1.6 percent to 6.8323 per dollar after sliding to 6.8266, the weakest since Nov. 30. It depreciated 0.5 percent to 9.0490 per euro.

South Africa’s rand dropped the most against the dollar among the 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. It lost 2 percent to 8.2556 per dollar.

The yuan rose after the Financial News reported Xuan Changneng, head of the People’s Bank of China’s financial stability bureau, as saying policy makers will maintain flexibility while pushing forward with interest-rate and exchange-rate reform.

“The PBOC’s comment quelled investors’ depreciation expectations after the weaker export growth,” said Kenix Lai, a currency analyst at Bank of East Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong “The stronger fixing also shows that China will still allow gains in the currency, even though the pace may slow.”

The yuan gained 0.06 percent to 6.3606 per dollar, after falling 0.08 percent last week.

European Plan

European leaders unveiled a blueprint after meetings on Dec. 8 and 9 for a closer fiscal accord, adding 200 billion euros to their bailout fund and tightening rules to curb future debts. They also said they would start a 500 billion-euro rescue fund next year.

The agreement offered few additional measures and doesn’t diminish the risk of credit-ranking revisions, Moody’s said in its Weekly Credit Outlook. “Our intention as announced in November is to revisit the level and dispersion of ratings during the first quarter of 2012,” the company said.

“Moody’s captures the mood,” said Kit Juckes, head of foreign-exchange research at Societe Generale SA in London. “The market is disappointed that nothing more substantial was agreed” at last week’s European Union summit. “There are no convincing reasons for anyone to want to own the euro today.”

Standard & Poor’s put the EU’s AAA rating on “creditwatch negative” last week after similar action on 15 of the 17 euro nations, pending the outcome of last week’s summit and the actions of central bankers.

Market Forecast

The single currency may depreciate toward $1.3145, which would be the weakest since January, Juckes said.

Foreign-exchange strategists are slashing their forecasts for the euro at the fastest pace this year as ECB President Mario Draghi’s interest-rate cuts remove one of the currency’s pillars of support.

Since Nov. 3, when Draghi began to undo the rate increases implemented earlier this year by his predecessor, Jean-Claude Trichet, analysts have reduced end-of-2012 estimates for the euro to $1.32 from $1.40, based on the median of 40 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey as of last week. It has weakened versus every major currency except the Swiss franc since then, after gaining against 12 of the 16 this year prior to that.

“There still has to be further monetary easing by the ECB to support growth in the euro area for 2012 and beyond,” Ken Dickson, investment director of currencies at Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh, which manages about $235 billion, said in a Dec. 9 telephone interview.

Lindsay Lohan Recovers Stolen Purse, Minus $10,000: Report

Lindsay Lohan had a hectic Saturday night in Hawaii, reportedly having her purse snatched at a party … and then returned the next day with $10,000 in cash missing.
The actress, 25, left her $5,000 Chanel purse in her car while attending a party in Laie, then later realized it was missing, reports. It was returned by a local the next day, but was missing $10,000 in cash.
Her passport and important probation documents were still inside the purse, leaving Lohan so relieved that she reportedly didn't ask questions of the person who returned it.
Lohan, who has been in the news for her Marilyn Monroe-inspired nude photos in Playboy, has been vacationing with her sister Ali in Hawaii.

Supreme Court Considers Taking on State Immigration Laws Cases

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is waging a furious legal fight against a patchwork of state laws targeting illegal immigrants, and on Monday the Supreme Court has its first chance to jump into the fray.

If the justices take the case, it would add another politically charged dispute between a Republican-dominated state and the Democratic administration to the court's election-year lineup. The immigration case would be heard and decided at roughly the same time as the constitutional challenge to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Just Friday, the justices intervened in a partisan fight over redistricting in Texas. That case will be heard in January.

Arizona is asking the justices to allow the state to begin enforcing measures that have been blocked by lower courts at the administration's request. Among those provisions is one that requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if officers suspect he is in the country illegally.

Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also are facing Obama administration lawsuits. Private groups are suing over immigration measures adopted in Georgia and Indiana.

The Justice Department says that regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states.

Arizona counters that the federal government isn't doing enough to address illegal immigration and that border states are suffering disproportionately.

In urging the court to hear the immigration case, Arizona says the administration's contention that states "are powerless to use their own resources to enforce federal immigration standards without the express blessing of the federal executive goes to the heart of our nation's system of dual sovereignty and cooperative federalism."

Many other state and local governments have taken steps aimed at reducing the effects of illegal immigration, the state says.

But the administration argues that the various legal challenges making their way through the system is reason to wait and see how other courts rule and not take this case now.

In April, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge's ruling halting enforcement of several provisions of Arizona's S.B. 1070. Among the blocked provisions: Requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

In October, the federal appeals court in Atlanta blocked parts of the Alabama law that forced public schools to check the immigration status of students and allowed police to file criminal charges against people who are unable to prove their citizenship.

Lawsuits in South Carolina and Utah are not as far along.

Eleven states, including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, back Arizona's appeal as do several conservative groups.

Pak-U.S. ties set to top Envoys' Conference in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan opened a two-day Envoys ' Conference in Islamabad on Monday to deliberate on "different aspects" of the country's foreign policy with special focus on review of relationship with the United States and NATO, the Foreign Ministry said.

The conference assumed importance as Pakistani leaders have decided to review its relationship with the United States and its Western allies in the wake of the Nov. 26 NATO attack on Pakistani border posts, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

"We are reviewing the terms of engagement with the NATO and the U.S," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said ahead of the conference.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar presided over the Conference and Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha briefed the participants about the NATO strikes.

Prime Minister Ysuf Raza Gilani has already set tone for the proposed review of ties with the United States by saying that the relationship will not be like in the past.

Ambassadors and High Commissioners in selected key capitals are participating in the conference who will "deliberate on different aspects of Pakistan's foreign policy," the spokesman said.

The conference was called after the U.S.-led NATO fighter jets and helicopters carried out what Pakistani leaders viewed as intentional attack on two border posts in the country's Mohmand tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Islamabad angrily reacted to the attack as the military leadership said the NATO aircraft violated the "Red Lines" clearly defined to the U.S./NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan military said that NATO had carried out eight strikes on Pakistani posts in three years, killing 72 soldiers and injuring hundreds of others.

Pakistan's military leadership rejected regrets from the U.S. and NATO leaders and the civilian leaders preferred to review future relationship with the United States and NATO. The government had been under tremendous internal pressure to review relations with the U.S. in the so-called anti-terror war, which has killed nearly 35,000 civilians and 5,000 security men in 10 years.

In order to adopt harsh stand after the November 26 NATO strike, Pakistan closed the supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan and Gilani said on Sunday that the supply line will remain shut for more weeks.

In another major decision, Pakistan ordered the U.S. military to evacuate from a strategically important airbase in Balochistan province. The U.S. military had used the Shamsi airbase for nearly 10 years and the last U.S. flight took off from the airstrip on Sunday, transferring its spy aircraft, equipment and personnel. Pakistani army Sunday issued video and photographs of the airbase, showing its own troops taking control and the departure of the final U.S. Air Force flight.

Chinese skipper kills S.Korean coastguard: officials

SEOUL — A Chinese fishing boat skipper stabbed a South Korean coastguard officer to death and wounded another officer on Monday as they tried to arrest him for illegal fishing, officials said.

It was the second time in less than four years that a South Korean coastguard officer had been killed, amid increasingly violent clashes in the rich fishing grounds of the Yellow Sea which separates the two countries.

South Korea summoned Chinese ambassador Zhang Xinsen to lodge a strong protest, the foreign ministry said.

"This should have not happened. This is extremely tragic," a presidential spokesman told reporters.

The 41-year-old victim surnamed Lee was rushed by helicopter to hospital in the city of Incheon west of Seoul but died of organ failure.

The coastguard said it launched an operation early Monday to seize two Chinese fishing boats 85 kilometres (around 55 miles) off Socheong island, and managed to take control of a 66-tonne boat.

But the other boat suddenly rammed the seized vessel, prompting nine Chinese fishermen on board the captured boat to start attacking officers.

The 42-year-old captain broke a window on his vessel and stabbed the officers with a shard of glass, according to initial reports.

Lee suffered fatal injuries while the other victim, a 33-year-old, was stabbed in the stomach and was undergoing hospital treatment.

The coastguard later said the captain has been arrested for murder and violating the South's exclusive economic zone. It said it was unclear whether he used a shard of glass or another weapon.

"All crew will be detained for investigation and another boat that was at the scene has been seized so that its crew will be questioned about whether they were involved in the crime," said Ahn Sung-Shik, an investigator with the Incheon coastguard.

During his meeting with ambassador Zhang, First Vice Foreign Minister Park Suk-Hwan "strongly demanded that the Chinese government strictly clamp down on illegal fishing and the illegal acts of Chinese fishermen", a ministry spokesman said.

Park also urged Beijing to express regret at the incident and promise to prevent similar situations.

Zhang expressed regret and replied that he would "promptly and accurately" report Seoul's position to his government, according to the spokesman.

Illegal fishing by Chinese vessels is common in South Korean waters, with 475 boats seized so far this year compared with 370 in the whole of last year, according to official figures.

In October the coastguard said it used tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue Chinese fishermen wielding clubs and shovels. Some 21 Chinese were detained but later released after paying a fine.

In December 2010 a Chinese boat overturned and sank in the Yellow Sea after ramming a South Korean coastguard vessel. Two Chinese crewmen were killed.

Three Chinese detained after that incident were freed following protests from Beijing.

In September 2008 a South Korean officer drowned while trying to inspect a Chinese boat.

Russia to investigate electoral fraud in wake of protests

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the allegations of fraud in the country's disputed elections earlier this month.

The move comes after the biggest protests in over a decade across Russia, which saw tens of thousands of people gather near the Kremlin and thousands more rally in 50 cities across the country.

The unrest was sparked over widespread allegations of ballot-box stuffing in parliamentary elections held on December 4.

Protesters have demanded the government set a new election date by December 24 and the opposition has called for the chairman of the country's electoral commission to be sacked.

Mr Medvedev is rejecting calls for a new election, keeping a low profile and avoiding appearances on camera since the ballot.

But in an apparent acknowledgement of the protesters' concerns, he announced via Facebook that he will order an investigation into the widespread allegations of vote rigging.

That is not enough for many protesters, who are worried the United Russia party stole the election.

"I think it is inadequate. We support the rally. I'm sure that we were all fooled yet another time with the election," one demonstrator said.

"I'm sure that all the percentages that United Russia received are overstated and the fact that our authorities are opting out of this, it's horrible. But what can we do about it?"

Some demonstrators say they saw vote rigging first hand in the parliamentary vote.

"Almost at once we could identify people who were heading towards polling booths with stacks of voting ballots to put into the ballot box. Naturally I knew these things happened but I didn't expect to see it at my polling station," one witness said.
Putin's power

The protesters are also concerned over prime minister Vladimir Putin's decision to run for the presidency next year.

Mr Putin served as president from 1999 until 2008, but handed over to then prime minister Dmitry Medvedev because the constitution barred him from a third term.

Russian opposition MP Ilya Ponamaryov says Mr Putin always loomed large in the background and the protesters are worried about his return.

"This whole thing started in September when Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev decided to trade places without asking the rest of the population," she said.

"It was that time when people decided that we will come to the polling station and by voting against United Russia, we would express our disapproval of their decision."

Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst, says the president's call for an investigation may not be enough to satisfy the protesters.

"The public opinion is that everyone understands that there was fraud or a majority understands it," he said.

"In such a situation what the president should have done instead of posting on Facebook is to create a commission to include officials from the polling stations, members of the party structures that were monitoring the election, members of the press and members of social organisations that have a right to monitor the elections and recount the votes. It is not that complicated."

Mr Oreshkin says the president needs to be much more specific about the investigation if he hopes to mollify the protesters.

"He didn't say to whom he gave the order. Did he give orders to a firefighting squad, to an ambulance or maybe to the emergencies ministry?" he said.

"After all, it should have been stated. It is either the prosecutors or it is the investigative committee or is it the Central Elections Commission?

"If it is the elections commission, this means it is investigating itself at a time when people are expressing their mistrust of it. So I think it is an ineffective move.

"I think that the president will receive more critical remarks from the internet community than voices of support."