US, Japan prepare for N Korea launch

Senior Japanese diplomat Shinsuke Sugiyama said after talks in Washington that Tokyo was seeking a coordinated international response to the launch, which North Korea plans to carry out between April 12 and 16.

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“We are urging (North Korea) not to do what they announced,” Sugiyama, the top Japanese diplomat for Asian affairs, told reporters.

“Of course, I don’t think I’ll try to deny that we are discussing the contingency measures, which means… trying to make measures if the launch is going to materialize,” he said.

Sugiyama declined to go into detail on repercussions for North Korea. The United States and Japan have spearheaded efforts at the United Nations to reprimand North Korea following previous nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea said it plans to put a “satellite” into orbit to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the regime’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, despite agreeing to a freeze on missile and nuclear tests under a February 29 deal with Washington. Kim Il-Sung died in 1994.

The United States has already suspended plans to provide North Korea with badly needed food assistance.

Japan, which has been officially pacifist and never fired a shot in anger since World War II, has said it is ready to shoot down the rocket if it poses a threat to its territory.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that the United States understood Japan’s concerns, which is why it is “telling North Korea that this planned launch is a mistake, that they should back away from it.”

Sugiyama met in Washington with his US counterpart Kurt Campbell and Glyn Davies, the coordinator of US policy on North Korea.


Japan to phase out nuclear energy

Japan on Friday said it planned to phase out nuclear power over three decades in an apparent bow to public pressure after last year’s Fukushima disaster, the worst atomic accident in a generation.

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Tokyo’s ambitious goal would see the nation work to cut its use of nuclear energy to zero by 2040, permanently shutting down its stable of reactors that once supplied resource-poor Japan with about one-third of its energy.

“The government will introduce every possible policy resource that would enable nuclear power generation to be at zero during the 2030s,” said a government paper released Friday.

The move would bring Japan into line with Italy, Switzerland and Germany, which has said it will wean itself off nuclear power by 2022, and comes amid regular vocal protests against nuclear power.

“Many Japanese hope to build a society that does not rely on nuclear power generation,” the paper said.

“On the other hand, it is also clear that opinions are divided over how soon or exactly how such a society can be achieved.”

Ahead of a general election expected this autumn, nuclear energy has become a hot issue in Japan with regular protests that sometimes attract tens of thousands of people calling for it to be ditched.

The issuing of a policy goal Friday is not binding on any future government, and a new administration could reverse the plan.

Last week, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) recommended the country make greater use of renewable energy, and take further energy saving measures, including the use of smart metering.

It also said Japan should develop resources in nearby waters and look to cheaper procurement of liquefied natural gas and other fossil fuels.

But Japan’s powerful business lobby has worked hard to push for a restart of shuttered reactors, fearing power shortages and warning of soaring utility bills.

“There is no way we can accept this — I cannot think this is technologically possible,” Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Keidanren, or Japan Business Federation, said of the new policy.

Many critics view a nuclear-free Japan as unrealistic and warn that the move away from atomic power could have severe consequences for manufacturers and the world’s third-largest economy.

Makoto Yagi, head of major utility Kansai Electric Power, added: “I am not sure whether substantial national discussions were held on this issue.”

Tokyo’s new energy policy calls for shutting down reactors that are more than 40 years old, not building any new nuclear reactors and only restarting existing reactors if they pass standards issued by a new regulatory agency.

Greenpeace “cautiously welcomed” the new policy, but said Tokyo’s decades-long timeline to phase out nuclear was unnecessary since all but two of Japan’s 50 reactors were switched off in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.

“The government and energy utilities must make every effort to rapidly phase out nuclear power and deploy renewable solutions to avoid future disasters,” it said in a statement.

The environmental group said Japan should use its zero-nuclear goal as a starting point and make “increasingly bold strides towards the sustainable green economy that will secure Japan’s future prosperity”.

The decision on Friday comes about 18 months after a huge tsunami swamped reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, sparking meltdowns and radiation leaks in the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

In the months that followed, all of Japan’s working reactors were shut down for routine safety checks, with only two of them ever having been restarted, and those in spite of strengthening anti-nuclear public opinion.

Japan is now heavily dependent on Middle East oil and has been forced to ramp up its imports to make up the energy shortfall since the accident.

Germany last year said it would shut down its 17 nuclear reactors by 2022, while in Italy, a referendum rejected any resumption of nuclear energy generation after the Chernobyl accident.

Switzerland has approved plans to close its five reactors by 2034. However a number of Asian countries are pushing ahead with expanding their nuclear programmes.


Egypt’s Morsi slams Syria’s ‘oppressive regime’

Mohamed Morsi, the first Egyptian leader to set foot in Iran in decades, has caused a storm when he slammed the Syrian regime as “oppressive” and urged backing for rebels out to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

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Morsi’s address to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran embarrassed Damascus’s staunch Iranian backers and drew a sharp retort from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who told Iran’s Al-Alam television the Egyptian president had broken the NAM tradition “by interfering in the affairs of Syria.”

Egypt’s state media said Morsi’s address sparked a walkout by the Syrian delegation but Muallem said he merely left the hall for the interview with Al-Alam before returning.

“The revolution in Egypt is the cornerstone for the Arab Spring, which started days after Tunisia and then it was followed by Libya and Yemen and now the revolution in Syria against its oppressive regime,” Morsi said in his speech.

“Our solidarity with the struggle of Syrians against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, and a political and strategic necessity,” he added.

Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement is affiliated with one of Syria’s main opposition groups, earlier Thursday became the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979 when he landed in Tehran.

Egypt severed ties with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought to power a theocracy that opposed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and welcomed the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who forged the deal.

Morsi, who was seated at the summit next to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended the meeting to hand over the NAM’s rotating leadership to Iran.

Iran had been supportive of the Arab Spring uprisings that brought Morsi to power in Egypt, but extended its backing to Syria when protests followed by an armed insurrection broke out against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 25,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-long revolt against Assad, which has turned into a brutal civil war.

Morsi’s visit marks a cautious shift in his country’s approach to Iran, which his ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak had suspected of trying to destabilise his regime.

Egypt’s diplomatic line will be “more agile and active,” leaving behind the “stagnation” under Mubarak’s rule, Morsi’s spokesman Yassir Ali said before the trip.

Morsi, who has pledged to honour his country’s treaty with Israel, is also closer than Mubarak to Iran’s position on Israel and the Palestinians, especially the Islamist Hamas ruler of Gaza, on Egypt’s doorstep.

He emphasised in his speech the Palestinians’ “right to self determination and a free state” and demanded support for their bid to become full members of the United Nations.

Morsi’s spokesman Ali had said the president’s visit, on his way back from a trip to China, would last only several hours, and he would discuss only summit related matters.

Al-Alam television cited unidentified Iranian officials as saying the Egyptian leader would see Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to discuss bilateral relations, regional events, and the revolts sweeping the Arab world that this year brought Morsi to power.


Mickelson ends British Open hoodoo as Westwood falters

The American left-hander took advantage of a jittery last round from overnight leader Lee Westwood by firing a five-under-par 66 for a three-under tally of 281 on a cool and breezy day on the east coast of Scotland.

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Mickelson was the beneficiary of a fortunate bounce with his approach shot at the last and after rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt he raised both arms in the air before hugging Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay as his long-serving caddie wiped away some tears.

Muirfield once again lived up to its reputation for providing great champions as the popular Californian picked up the fifth major title of his career.

It was Mickelson’s 20th appearance at the British Open and only the third time he had finished in the top 10.

“That was one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played,” he said as he cradled the coveted Claret Jug in his arms at the presentation ceremony at the conclusion of the 142nd Open.

“I could not be more proud to be your champion.

“To play probably the best round of my career is probably the most fulfilling moment of my career because it is something I thought I would never do here.”

Stenson closed with a 70, ending up one stroke ahead of Westwood (75), Australian Adam Scott (72) and a fired-up Ian Poulter (67) who launched a spectacular last-day assault with an eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie burst from the ninth.

World number one Tiger Woods, like Westwood, was strangely out of sorts and never threatened to challenge for the first prize of 945,000 pounds.

Fourteen-times major champion Woods, bidding to end a five-year wait for a win in one of golf’s big four events, could be heard muttering darkly to himself throughout the round as he slid to a 74 to take a share of sixth place on 286.

Mickelson, who won last week’s Scottish Open, said his triumph made up for the disappointment of losing out to Britain’s Justin Rose in the last round of the U.S. Open a month ago.

“The range of emotions are as far apart as possible following the loss at Merion,” added the 43-year-old.

“To win here feels amazing but you have to be resilient in this game, you have to accept the losses as well as you accept the victories.

“This is such an accomplishment for me. I just never knew I could develop the game that I needed to play links golf effectively.”

STRAIGHT BIRDIES

Mickelson was on the fringes of contention on the front nine but suddenly lit the blue touch paper on his game with birdies at the 13th and 14th.

The world number five, watched by wife Amy and his children, then delivered a dazzling coup de grace on the 575-yard 17th.

Mickelson reached the green with two crunching blows, crying ‘Go, Baby, Go’ as his second shot came to rest on the green, and the title was effectively secured when he two-putted for his sixth birdie of the round.

While the American was buzzing, Westwood felt deflated after wasting a glorious opportunity to end his wait for a breakthrough major victory at the 62nd attempt.

Hundreds of British fans started streaming towards the exits with the Englishman on the 17th hole.

The crowds, who had to contend with the coolest temperatures of the week and winds gusting up to 25mph, cheered patriotically for Westwood early on but the atmosphere fell flat around the turn as their man started to struggle.

“I didn’t play that badly today but the round came apart at the seventh, eighth and ninth,” said the 40-year-old. “I found three bunkers and each time the ball was plugged but that is the defence of the golf course.

“It seems like an over-40 championship now, it seems like you have to be 42 or 43 to win it,” he added, referring to the victories by Ernie Els last year and his close friend Darren Clarke in 2011.

Westwood was particularly irked when he was distracted at the seventh and found sand off the tee.

“I can’t believe you clicked your camera at the top of my back swing,” he fumed at a photographer.

Conditions were difficult for scoring, just as they had been all through the championship, and sub-par rounds were few and far between on Sunday.

Els finished in a tie for 26th place despite producing the shot of the day when his approach at the 17th bounced straight into the cup for an eagle three.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)


Gina Rinehart lowers stake in Fairfax

Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart has reduced her stake in Fairfax Media, offloading more than 86 million shares.

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Mrs Rinehart sold 86.5 million shares worth $50.1 million, reducing her stake in the company to 15 per cent, to an Australian fund manager on Thursday.

The sale comes amid a stand-off between Mrs Rinehart and Fairfax over her push to join the company’s board.

“The sale was completed to resolve an issue that arose concerning the directors and officers insurance policy, in the situation of a director having a greater than 15 per cent shareholding in Fairfax,” Mrs Rinehart’s private company Hancock Prospecting said in a statement.

The sale of 86.5 million Fairfax shares occurred just after the Australian stock market closed at 1600 AEST.

The shares were sold for 58 cents, just off their close of 58.5 cents.

The mining billionaire still holds about 352 million shares, or a 15 per cent stake, in Fairfax.

Mrs Rinehart had been locked in a battle with Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett over securing three board seats.

Fairfax directors wanted Mrs Rinehart to sign the media company’s charter of independence before any offer to join the board was made.

They also wanted Mrs Rinehart to agree not to sue fellow board members.

Fairfax’s professional insurance policy, which is designed to offer legal protection to board members, does not apply to shareholders who hold more than 15 per cent of Fairfax shares.

The Hancock Prospecting statement said that as Mr Corbett had refused to raise the 15 per cent limit, a decision had been made to sell the 86.5 million shares.

Hancock also denied reports that it was about to make a takeover offer for Fairfax.

“We continue to monitor the performance of our investment in Fairfax noting that the shares are trading at record or near record lows, which is an independent assessment of the chairman’s performance,” the statement said.

“We again urge the chairman to tell concerned shareholders that he will accept proposed milestones regarding his performance in the interests of Fairfax and its shareholders, or propose other reasonable KPI (key performance indicators) to meet for the continuance of his chairmanship past the AGM (annual general meeting) in November 2012.”


Mitt Romney and the 50.1 per cent

By Nicole Hemmer, University of Sydney

Mitt Romney welcomed Donald Trump’s endorsement, saying, “I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in.

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But I need to get 50.1% or more.” Wikimedia Commons, photo credit Gage Skidmore

Mitt Romney has a percentage problem. And it’s not the 47 per cent.

Well, it’s not only the 47 per cent. Responding to those now-infamous fundraiser comments, Romney trotted out another percent that reveals much more about his worldview, and his campaign problems: 50.1 per cent.

“I want to get 50.1 per cent or more,” he told a Fox News interviewer the day after the tape was released.

It’s a number he’s used before. When defending his alliance with Donald Trump, whose obsession with President Obama’s birth certificate shows little sign of waning, Romney explained: “You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 per cent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”

That problem with the 50.1 per cent? First, it makes Romney sound like he’s angling to be a majority stakeholder in America, rather than its president. If he can just capture a controlling share, he can do whatever he likes. It gives lie to the notion that businessmen make good politicians. True, elected officials have to cobble together votes and factions in order to build a majority coalition. But to lead successfully, they have to express a vision that encompasses not only their supporters, but the entire nation.

And that’s the bigger problem with Romney’s 50.1 per cent formulation. The Republican nominee has been criticised by the Right for “speaking conservatism as a second language.” The real barrier to his election, however, is that he speaks politics as a second language – one in which he has little fluency.

At its heart, talk of winning 50.1 per cent is a conversation about strategy, not governing. Romney is far more comfortable discussing strategy than laying out policy visions (and details). Rather than outline how his presidency would help women, for instance, he talks about his need to woo women voters in order to win the election. Same with Latino voters. This would be fine were he a behind-the-scenes campaign manager. But he’s the candidate, which requires much more of him.

Ironically, Romney’s best strategy is to convince people he cares about voters more than he cares about their votes. Having watched him campaign for the past year, I’m not sure that’s a case he can make. But as the race draws to a close , it may be the only way he can win.

Nicole Hemmer does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.


Hugo Chavez: Leftist firebrand who divided nation

Former paratrooper Hugo Chavez led a self-styled revolution that redistributed Venezuela’s oil wealth, earning the devotion of the long-neglected poor while provoking foes at home and abroad.

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He won power through the ballot box in 1988 and hung on to it, most recently winning a new six-year term in October. It was cancer that finally defeated the leftist president on Tuesday at the age of 58.

His end came after a three-month period in which the symbolic head of the Latin American left had been neither seen nor heard by his public, fueling rumors and leaving the oil-rich nation and wider region in a state of suspense.

When he had left in December for Cuba — where he had received treatment since 2011 — Chavez had pumped his first and shouted “Onward to life, always!,” invoking Che Guevara’s famous “onward to victory” battle cry.

But his return from his final trip to the island was announced, not with a rally or red carpet, but with a tweet posted in the dead of night on February 18, an ominous sign for a nation accustomed to the larger-than-life leader.

Chavez designated Vice President Nicolas Maduro his heir, but the former bus driver and union activist is nothing like his charismatic mentor, who captivated huge crowds with marathon speeches, impromptu songs and even dances.

While he was revered among the poor, Chavez left behind a deeply divided nation. Opponents accused him of being a power-hungry despot who failed to curb runaway crime and diversify an economy overly dependent on oil exports.

Chavez was omnipresent in Venezuelan life, hosting his own weekend television show — “Alo presidente” — while his image was splashed across slums, buildings and even the capital’s international airport.

Critics accused him of leading a personality cult.

Inspired by Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Chavez adopted the mantle of a socialist firebrand, railing against the “imperialist” United States while befriending controversial leaders in Iran and Syria.

Cancer slowed him down, however, while chemotherapy left him bald for a while. The government had provided few details about the nature, location or severity of the cancer, saying only that it was in his pelvic region.

His faith in God grew during his health troubles, causing him to break into prayer publicly, pleading during Easter Week in 2012: “Don’t take me yet.”

He waited until the final week of the October election to intensify his campaign, showing signs of his old self as he danced in front of hundreds of thousands in Caracas.

Vowing to make his socialist agenda “irreversible,” Chavez won the election with 55 percent of the vote, which would have kept him in office until 2019.

On the world stage, Chavez embraced many US enemies over the years, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in 2006, he said the podium still “smelled of sulphur” after George W. Bush had used it, calling the then US president the “devil.”

At first he warmed towards President Barack Obama, but Chavez soon returned to type, portraying the United States as an evil colonial power while exporting one million of barrels of oil per day to the “empire.”

He promoted a leftist alternative to the US-led Free Trade Area of the Americas, and was a driving force behind the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Born in 1954, Chavez was the son of school teachers from the southwestern state of Barinas. He was raised by his paternal grandmother and later studied at the Military Academy of Venezuela in Caracas.

The boy known as “Huguito,” who sold sweets in his childhood town of Sabaneta, burst onto the political scene in 1992, when the lieutenant colonel led a failed coup against an antiquated two-party system.

The leader at the time, Carlos Andres Perez, jailed Chavez for two years — an imprisonment that backfired as it turned the soldier into a hero.

Six years later, Chavez took his cause to the polls, winning the presidential election with 56 percent of the vote.

He was re-elected in 2000 and again in 2006. Three years later, Chavez successfully pushed through a referendum that eliminated term limits.

Chavez’s speeches were tinged with nationalist rhetoric, religious references to the “first socialist” Jesus Christ and an almost religious cult to Bolivar, a 19th century South American independence hero.

His biggest challenge came in 2002, when he was ousted in a short-lived coup that lasted 47 hours. He then overcame a two-month oil industry strike a year later and a recall election in 2004.

Though a devout Catholic, Chavez divorced twice. He is survived by four children and three grandchildren.