Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Minnesota court rules Democrat Al Franken won Senate seat

(COURT, DEMOCRAT, FRANKEN, REPUBLICAN, COLEMAN, DECISION)


Minnesota court rules Democrat Al Franken won Senate seatMINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Democrat Al Franken the winner of a tight U.S. Senate race over Republican Norm Coleman, which should give Democrats the 60-seat majority they need to overcome procedural obstacles and push through their agenda.
Coleman has said in published reports he is unlikely to appeal the state court`s decision to the federal courts. Under state law, the court`s decision gives Franken the right to occupy the seat, which has been up for grabs since last November`s election.
Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has said he will certify the election winner based on what the state court decides.
If the decision holds up, Democrats will control 60 of the 100 Senate seats -- enough to overcome Republican procedural roadblocks in a clear boost to President Barack Obama`s agenda.
Democrats hold a solid majority in the U.S. House.
However, Senate Democrats may not be able to count on Arlen Specter`s vote. Specter, a former Republican from Pennsylvania, switched parties in April but has said he will vote his own way and not necessarily along party lines.
The Minnesota contest has seen several switches. Coleman, seeking a second term, held a razor-thin lead after the November 4 election over Franken, a well known satirist and a former writer and actor for the popular Saturday Night Live television show.
But the close vote triggered an automatic recount of the 2.4 million ballots cast for the two men, and Franken edged to a 225-vote lead. That result was challenged by Coleman, and a judicial panel agreed to add only a few hundred previously rejected absentee ballots. That tally expanded Franken`s lead to 312 votes.
(Reporting by Todd Melby and Andrew Stern)
Original article

Obama admin. sets wide scope for consumer agency

(AGENCY, WOULD, CONSUMER, PROTECTION, FINANCIAL, CREDIT)


Obama admin. sets wide scope for consumer agencyBy David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S. agency would have sweeping powers to write and enforce tough consumer protection rules for banks, mortgage lenders and other financial institutions under proposed legislation the Obama administration sent to Congress on Tuesday.
The legislative language fleshes out a key component of President Barack Obama`s plan outlined earlier this month to revamp U.S. financial regulation in response to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency aims to protect Americans from abusive practices employed during the recent housing and credit boom, such as deceptive and undocumented mortgage lending, poor loan disclosures, unfair interest rate increases and "fee traps" on credit cards.
The proposal would consolidate financial consumer protection power in a single new agency, stripping this authority from six current regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
"Consumer protection will have an independent seat at the table in our regulatory system. By consolidating accountability in one place, we will reduce gaps in federal supervision and enforcement," U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement.
A Treasury official said the agency will be focused primarily on credit products such as mortgages, credit cards and other consumer loans, savings products and payments services, such as electronic funds transfers.
GOALS LAUDED, NEW AGENCY QUESTIONED
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, who will play a key role in pushing regulatory changes through Congress, said the proposal would address "the colossal failures that led to the economic crisis."
"Creating an independent agency whose sole focus is protecting consumers -- be it credit card holders, anyone with a bank account, or families with mortgages or student loans -- is really the key to creating the foundations for a stronger economy," Dodd said.
But many Republicans and the financial services industry are less enthusiastic about the plan, which they fear would impose a regulatory burden that will add costs, reduce the availability of credit and stifle innovation.
They also fear that stripping existing agencies of their consumer authority could reduce their effectiveness.
"We completely agree with and applaud the emphasis the administration has placed on enhancing consumer protection. Our concern is that a new agency, by its very nature, might not effectively serve that objective," said John Dearie, executive vice president at the Financial Services Forum, a lobbying group that represents the largest U.S. financial institutions.
He said the proposed agency could "monopolize" the government`s approach to consumer protection by creating one agency with one staff and one institutional view.
However, the new agency would not affect the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to adopt rules, initiate enforcement proceedings or take action against those they regulate.
Still, the powers the Obama administration wants to invest in the new agency are sweeping.  Continued...
Original article

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U.S. targets North Korea missile proliferation network

(TREASURY, NORTH, KOREA, ELECTRONICS, FINANCIAL, KOMID)


U.S. targets North Korea missile proliferation networkWASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury said on Tuesday it has targeted an Iranian-based firm for its ties to North Korea`s missile proliferation network, a move that bans U.S. companies from dealing with it.
Hong Kong Electronics, located in Kish Island, Iran, has been named for transferring millions of dollars of proliferation-related funds to North Korea from Iran.
"North Korea uses front companies like Hong Kong Electronics and a range of other deceptive practices to obscure the true nature of its financial dealings, making it nearly impossible for responsible banks and governments to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate North Korean transactions," said Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Treasury said Hong Kong Electronics provided support to North Korea`s Tanchon Commercial Bank and Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID).
Since 2007 Hong Kong Electronics has transferred funds to North Korea on behalf of KOMID, Treasury said.
Tanchon, a bank based in Pyongyang, North Korea, is the financial arm for KOMID, North Korea`s premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons, Treasury said.
The actions were taken under an executive order that allows the U.S. government to freeze assets of designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters and isolates them from the U.S. financial and commercial systems.
(Reporting by Nancy Waitz; Editing by James Dalgleish)
Original article

Main news of June 29

(WORLD, RUSSIA, MINISTRY, SPOKESMAN, MONDAY, RUSSIAN)


WORLD
* Russia condemns the coup d`etat in Honduras and calls for the restoration of law and order in the country, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said
* The European Commission said Monday that progress has been made on the issue of giving Ukraine an international loan to pay Russia for natural gas
* The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday confirmed 70,893 officially registered A/H1N1 cases and 311 deaths in 116 countries and territories worldwide
* Honduran interim president Roberto Micheletti promised on Monday that presidential polls would go ahead as scheduled on November 29, a Venezuelan paper said
* A lawyer for Michael Jackson`s personal doctor denied claims on Monday that the cardiologist had injected the pop legend with a powerful painkiller prior to his death
* Iranian authorities have begun a partial recount of the fiercely disputed June 12 presidential vote, national media said
* Scientific tests conducted on what are believed to be the remains of Apostle Paul "seem to confirm" that they belong to the saint, Pope Benedict XVI has said
RUSSIA
* With a looming July 1 deadline to shut their doors and take down all signs, many Moscow casinos have opted to close early rather than gamble on working right down to the wire
* Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told state-run banks on Monday to use new government funding to increase lending by at least 150 billion rubles ($4.8 billion) in July
* Russia`s Air Force has resumed Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft flights after a 10-day suspension following two crashes in mid-June, a Defense Ministry official said
* Pilot error has been identified as the cause of a crash involving a Su-24 Fencer tactical bomber in mid-June, a flight service official said
* Large-scale military drills start on Monday in 10 southern subjects of the Russian Federation, a spokesman for the North Caucasus military district said
* A Russian-Argentine agreement scrapping bilateral visa requirements entered into force
SPORT
* World No. 1 Dinara Safina and fellow Russian Yelena Dementieva won on Monday to secure places in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, while two compatriots were knocked out
Original article

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Moscow condemns Honduran coup, calls for restoration of law

Moscow condemns Honduran coup, calls for restoration of law

(HONDURAS, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA, COUNTRY, ZELAYA, MILITARY)


Moscow condemns Honduran coup, calls for restoration of lawWhat Muscovites know about Honduras
Honduras Crisis : Soldiers ousted the democratically elected president
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia condemns the coup d`etat in Honduras and calls for the restoration of law and order in the country, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday.
Parliamentary speaker Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as president of the Central American state on Sunday after President Jose Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a coup. The military`s action, apparently supported by the country`s Supreme Court, has been condemned across the world.
"All actions by political players in the country must lie within the bounds of the law and the constitution," Andrei Nesterenko said.
He said Russia welcomed the efforts by regional organizations and groups trying "to work out a solution within the framework of international law."
The embassies of the member countries of the regional Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) backed Russia`s condemnation, the Cuban ambassador said at a news conference in Moscow.
Juan Valdes Figueroa said the ALBA diplomatic missions called for "a complete reinstatement of the Manuel Zelaya government," stressing that the coup violated "the fundamental norms of international law."
Honduran military arrested Zelaya on Sunday morning, hours before polls were due to open for a non-binding referendum on ending the restriction on presidents serving one four-year term.
Honduras` Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal. The president was arrested at his residence and transported aboard a military plane to Costa Rica in what was Central America`s first coup since the end of the Cold War.
Micheletti promised Monday that presidential polls would go ahead as scheduled on November 29, a Venezuelan paper said.
World leaders have condemned the coup, with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging "the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country."
U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the coup leaders to "respect the rule of law."
Miguel d`Escoto Brockmann, the president of the UN General Assembly, on Monday invited Zelaya to come to New York and speak at an extraordinary session of the assembly.
 
Original article

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EU says making progress on gas loan to Ukraine

(EUROPE, RUSSIAN, RUSSIA, UKRAINE, SUPPLIES, EUROPEAN)


EU says making progress on gas loan to UkraineDelivering gas to Europe
A map of Russian gas suppliers to Europe via Ukraine
Russia resumes gas supplies to Ukraine
Russia Ukraine sign gas deal
BRUSSELS, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - The European Commission said Monday that progress has been made on the issue of giving Ukraine an international loan to pay Russia for natural gas.
The statement was issued after high-level talks involving representatives of gas companies Gazprom and Naftogaz, the World Bank, the IMF, the EBRD and the EU.
"The participants made good progress in identifying the key issues of concern and elements for possible solutions including possible financing arrangements," the representatives said in a joint statement.
The ex-Soviet state is seeking a syndicated loan of over $4 billion from European banks to pay it debts to Russian energy giant Gazprom until November 2009.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in early June it would be difficult for the EU to help Ukraine keep up with its payments.
Russia, which supplies around one fifth of Europe`s gas, briefly shut down supplies via Ukraine`s pipeline system at the start of the year during a dispute with Kiev over unpaid debt.
The conflict was resolved in January, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko, agreed deals on deliveries to and gas transit through Ukraine for 2009.
Ukraine transits around 80% of Russia`s Europe-bound gas.
 
Original article

Gazprom to buy 0.5 bcm of Azerbaijani gas annually from 2010

(GAZPROM, AZERBAIJAN, MILLER, RUSSIAN, AZERBAIJANI, SUPPLIES)


Gazprom to buy 0.5 bcm of Azerbaijani gas annually from 2010BAKU, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Gazprom will buy 500 million cubic meters of natural gas from Azerbaijan annually from January 1, 2010, CEO Alexei Miller said on Monday.
The Russian energy giant, which has not so far bought Azerbaijani gas, signed an agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) earlier in the day.
"Gazprom will buy Azerbaijani gas from January 1, 2010. Initially we will buy 500 million cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas," Miller said, without disclosing either the price or the pricing formula.
"The agreement signed today fixes a basic price that is commercially attractive to our Azerbaijani partners," the Russian businessman said.
The agreed volume of deliveries from SOCAR is less than one tenth of one percent of the 549.7 billion cubic meters of gas Gazprom itself produced last year.
Azerbaijan plans eventually to increase gas supplies to Russia, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said.
"We plan in the future to increase supplies as the volume of Azerbaijani natural gas production goes up," Aliyev said on Monday after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Baku.
According to the Gazprom CEO, Azerbaijani gas to be pumped via a pipeline running between the two countries will be used in south Russian territories. He also pledged that similar volumes of gas would be reserved for European consumers.
Miller added that Gazprom was listed as a potential buyer of gas from the Shakh Deniz field with some privileges reserved for the company.
"We are confident that Gazprom has very good negotiating positions regarding long-term cooperation in the purchase of Azerbaijani gas," he said.
Speaking in early June at an oil conference in Azerbaijan`s capital, Baku, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza said that in 2012-2015 Azerbaijan would supply Europe with 12 billion cu m of gas from its Shakh Deniz field alone, raising supplies to 15 billion by 2015, and increasing them further by 2015-2020.
 
Original article

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Russian expert predicts return for ousted Honduran president

(HONDURAS, PRESIDENT, MILITARY, THERE, CHAVEZ, LEADERS)


Russian expert predicts return for ousted Honduran presidentWhat Muscovites know about Honduras
Honduras Crisis : Soldiers ousted the democratically elected president
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - International pressure means the deposed president of Honduras, sent into exile by the country`s military, is likely to return to power, a Russian expert said Monday.
"In all likelihood, he will return. There are such precedents, and when there is this kind of public opinion pressure - from the U.S., the European Union and Latin America - then there is a greater chance he will return than otherwise," said Vadim Teperman, director of the Latin America Institute`s economic research center.
Parliamentary speaker Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as president of the Central American state on Sunday after President Jose Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a coup. The military`s action, apparently supported by the country`s Supreme Court, has been condemned from Washington to Havana and Caracas.
Teperman said a major role in resolving the crisis could be played by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Zelaya.
"Much here depends on the position of Hugo Chavez. Chavez is an impulsive man, capable of making blunders. He has made ugly statements but fortunately has never crossed the line," the analyst said. "I think this time he will not cross it either, 95%."
"But there is a 5% chance commonsense will fail him, then everything will deteriorate, because that will create a foundation: aha, Chavez seized power and ours will follow this path as well," he said.
Teperman added that the president has his supporters but faced a strong opposition, including on the part of influential parties` leaders.
Honduran military arrested Zelaya on Sunday morning, hours before polls were due to open for a non-binding referendum on ending the restriction on presidents serving one four-year term.
Honduras` Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal. The president was arrested at his residence and transported aboard a military plane to Costa Rica in what was Central America`s first coup since the end of the Cold War.
Micheletti promised Monday that presidential polls would go ahead as scheduled on November 29, a Venezuelan paper said.
World leaders have condemned the coup, with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging "the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country."
U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the coup leaders to "respect the rule of law."
 
Original article

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WHO confirms over 70,000 swine flu cases, 311 deaths worldwide

(CASES, DEATHS, COUNTRIES, WORLDWIDE, PANDEMIC, MILLION)


WHO confirms over 70,000 swine flu cases, 311 deaths worldwideA vaccine of despair – that’s what Onishchenko called the swine flu shot
Cruise docks with flu fears
The Spread of the Swine flu Outbreak
Flu fears behind bus attack
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday confirmed 70,893 officially registered A/H1N1 cases and 311 deaths in 116 countries and territories worldwide.
The number of infected grew by 11,079 people over the weekend, while the death toll increased by 48 people.
The United States has seen the most fatalities with 27,717 cases and 127 deaths. Mexico has become the second most affected country, with 8,279 cases and 116 deaths. Other countries to be hit include Canada (7,775 cases, 21 deaths), Chile (5,186 cases and seven deaths), Britain (4,250 cases, one death) and Australia (4,038 cases, seven deaths).
WHO decided to raise its pandemic alert level to the maximum of 6 on June 11.
An influenza pandemic is an epidemic of an influenza virus that spreads on a worldwide scale and infects a large proportion of the human population.
There were three flu pandemics in the last century. The 1918 Spanish flu was the most serious, claiming over 50 million lives. It was followed by the Asian Flu in 1957 with up to 4 million deaths, and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 resulting in about 1 million deaths.
 
Original article

Russia to deliver new security proposal in Brussels July 22

(RUSSIA, SECURITY, COUNCIL, ROGOZIN, BETWEEN, AUGUST)


Russia to deliver new security proposal in Brussels July 22MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia`s proposals for a new National Security Strategy is to be presented at NATO headquarters in Brussels on July 22, Russia`s envoy to NATO said Monday.
"A high-level expert - one of the leaders of Russia`s Security Council - will arrive for that," Dmitry Rogozin said during a video link from Brussels organized by RIA Novosti.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree in May on the National Security Strategy up to 2020.
Rogozin also said that NATO had invited "the Russian envoy to take part on July 7 in a seminar devoted to NATO strategic development issues."
He also said the first meeting between a Russian representative and the newly-appointed NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who takes up the post on August 1, will be held August 11.
"I think at the August 11 meeting he is to outline prospects for his trip to Russia," Rogozin said.
Rogozin said discussions on a Russia`s proposal for a European Security Treaty could start in September during a Russia-NATO Council session.
Saturday`s informal foreign ministerial meeting of the Russia-NATO Council was the first high-level talks since last August`s five-day war between Russia and Georgia, after which contacts were frozen. Russia then recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which was attacked by Tbilisi in an attempt to bring it back under central control.
Relations between Russia and NATO have also been frayed in recent years over the military alliance`s eastern expansion. Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, have applied to join, but their U.S.-backed bids were turned down due to pressure from Germany and France at a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.
 
Original article

UN mission to withdraw from Abkhazia by July 15

(MISSION, GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA, UNITED, STATES, BRITAIN)


UN mission to withdraw from Abkhazia by July 15UN mission withdraws from Georgia and Abkhazia
Post-war life in Abkhazia
SUKHUM, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - United Nations military observers will leave Abkhazia by July 15, 2009, a spokesman for the UN mission said on Monday.
The work of the mission, officially known as the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), was formally stopped on June 16 when its mandate expired with the UN Security Council unable to agree an extension.
Ten countries, including the United States, Britain and France, voted for the draft resolution to extend the mission, four countries - China, Vietnam, Libya and Uganda - abstained, and veto-wielding Russia voted against.
The draft, co-authored by Austria, Croatia, Germany, France, Turkey, Britain and the United States, would have extended the mission until June 30, 2009.
According to UN practice, the withdrawal of a mission takes up to two months.
Edmund Mulet, Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, is currently visiting Abkhazia to discuss the details of the withdrawal with local authorities.
He held a meeting at the republic`s Foreign Ministry and was received by Abkhaz Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab earlier on Monday.
The UN mission in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone was deployed in 1993 to oversee a ceasefire following a post-Soviet conflict that resulted in Abkhazia gaining de facto independence.
Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008 after its five-day war with Georgia over the latter, which was attacked by Tbilisi in an attempt to bring it back under central control. Most residents of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have held Russian citizenship for several years.
 
Original article

Honduran interim leader promises polls in November

(PRESIDENT, HONDURAN, MICHELETTI, NOVEMBER, MILITARY, COUNTRY)


Honduran interim leader promises polls in NovemberHonduras Crisis : Soldiers ousted the democratically elected president
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Honduran interim president Roberto Micheletti promised on Monday that presidential polls would go ahead as scheduled on November 29, a Venezuelan paper said.
"I promise to be faithful to the republic...There will be elections on November 29," he was quoted as saying by the paper.
Parliamentary speaker Micheletti took power in the Central American state after Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a coup.
Honduran military arrested Zelaya on Sunday morning, the same day polls were due to open for a referendum on the extension of his non-renewable, four-year term of office.
The country`s Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal. The president was arrested at his residence and transported aboard a military plane to Costa Rica in what was Central America`s first coup since the end of the Cold War.
Micheletti, speaking at his first press conference, also said that a 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew had been imposed for a minimum of two days to ensure security in the country.
World leaders have condemned the coup, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging "the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country."
U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the coup leaders to "respect the rule of law."
 
Original article

Michael Jackson`s doctor denies final painkiller injection

(MICHAEL, JACKSON, DOCTOR, DEATH, AUTOPSY, FOUND)


Michael Jackson`s doctor denies final painkiller injectionMichael Jackson, the King of pop
Michael Jackson’s Moscow concert
Pop icon Michael Jackson dies at 50
LOS ANGELES, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - A lawyer for Michael Jackson`s personal doctor denied claims on Monday that the cardiologist had injected the pop legend with a powerful painkiller prior to his death.
"There was no Demerol. No OxyContin," Edward Chernoff told The Los Angeles Times.
Dr. Conrad Murray reportedly disappeared several hours after Jackson`s death at the age of 50 on Thursday, and failed to sign a death certificate.
The doctor, who had been treating the pop star for 11 weeks, was later interviewed by police who said he was "cooperative and provided information which will aid the investigation."
Chernoff said Jackson "wasn`t breathing" when the doctor "fortuitously" entered the bedroom in his Holmby Hills mansion.
"He checked for a pulse. There was a weak pulse in his femoral artery. He started administering CPR," the lawyer said.
The doctor said he "didn`t understand why Michael Jackson had died."
Meanwhile, the Jacksons have insisted on a second independent autopsy after the first examination found no conclusive cause of death.
The family believes the doctor had overmedicated Michael and will conduct their own investigation, examiner.com said.
The autopsy found four needle marks in his chest where the doctor is believed to have injected Jackson with adrenalin during resuscitation.
The autopsy results also said that there was no food apart from some pills found in the pop legend`s stomach as Jackson was reported to be fasting before his 50-day farewell tour which was to begin July 13.
The proceeds from the concerts were expected to reach $450 million. Fans who bought the tickets have been promised a full refund.
Following his death, the superstar`s albums and singles topped music charts around the world, with online music store Amazon reporting his albums taking the top 15 places in their charts.
 
Original article

Bones discovered in Rome tomb belong to St. Paul

(BELIEVED, APOSTLE, BENEDICT, CENTURY, ROMAN, PETER)


Bones discovered in Rome tomb belong to St. PaulTHE VATICAN, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Scientific tests conducted on what are believed to be the remains of Apostle Paul "seem to confirm" that they belong to the saint, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
Speaking at a ceremony on Sunday to mark the end of the Year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict said, carbon dating tests conducted on bone fragments found in a sarcophagus under the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, confirmed that they date from the first or second century.
He said a tiny hole had been drilled in the sarcophagus, which for about 2,000 years is believed to be the tomb of the saint apostle, and "traces of a precious linen cloth, purple in color, laminated with pure gold, and a blue colored textile with filaments of linen" were revealed.
"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," Benedict said.
The discovery in the tomb came after the Vatican newspaper announced on Saturday that a fresco featuring the thin face of a bearded man with large eyes, and face on a red background surrounded with a yellow circle - the classic image of St. Paul - had been found in excavations of the Catacomb of Santa Tecla.
It is believed to be the oldest known icon of St. Paul dating from the late fourth century, L`Osservatore Romano said.
St. Paul, who called himself the Apostle to the Gentiles, was along with St. Peter the most notable of early Christian missionaries.
According to tradition, Paul was beheaded, while Peter was crucified, in the first century during the persecution of early Christians by Roman emperors.
Monday is the feast of St. Peter and Paul, a major holiday for the Roman Catholic Church.
 
Original article

Iran releases five British embassy local staff members

(TEHRAN, EMBASSY, STAFF, ELECTION, IRANIAN, SAYING)


Iran releases five British embassy local staff membersTEHRAN, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Iran has released five British Embassy local members of staff, a day after eight of them were detained in Tehran on suspicion of being involved in post-election riots, state media reported.
Iran`s state English-language Press TV said the release occurred after preliminary investigations were completed. The other embassy staff members are to remain in custody.
Police in Tehran arrested eight Iranian diplomats on Sunday, saying they were "inflaming post-election tensions in the country."
The IRNA official news agency quoted the Iranian intelligence minister as saying that the British Embassy had played a "crucial role" in the disturbances.
"The embassy sent its local staff to rallies," Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje`I said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband voiced concern on Sunday over the arrests of the embassy`s Iranian employees, calling it "unacceptable."
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s landslide re-election sparked mass protests amid allegations of ballot fraud.
At least 13 people have been killed during election protests, according to Iranian media, and over 450 arrested in the largest challenge to the Islamic Revolution since the 1979 overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah.
 
Original article

Russia to raise oil export duty to $212.6 per ton from July 1

(EXPORT, CURRENT, GLOBAL, GOVERNMENT, PRODUCTS, PRICE)


Russia to raise oil export duty to $212.6 per ton from July 1MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will increase oil export duty from the current $152.8 to $212.6 per metric ton from July 1, following trends on global oil markets, the Russian government said on its website on Monday.
The decree was signed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on June 26.
As of July 1, the duty on light petroleum products will rise to $155.5 from the current $115.2 per ton and for heavy petroleum products to $83.8 from the current $62.1 per ton.
Last year, the government abandoned its previously accepted bimonthly adjustments of export duties based on the price of the Urals blend on global oil markets, and from December 1 switched to setting duties for oil and oil products on a monthly basis to respond more swiftly to changes in world oil prices.
The global financial crisis has forced Russia, which receives a large part of its revenues from oil exports, to gradually devalue the ruble amid capital flight and a fall in global oil prices, which declined from their peak of $147 per barrel in July 2008 to around $40 per barrel in early 2009, before climbing back to about $70.
 
Original article

Russian, U.S. MPs discuss bilateral ties ahead of July summit

(MOSCOW, RUSSIA, BILATERAL, TRADE, MISSILE, AMENDMENT)


Russian, U.S. MPs discuss bilateral ties ahead of July summitMOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are in Russia on June 29-30 to discuss urgent issues of bilateral relations ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama`s visit to Moscow on July 6-8.
Opening an extended meeting of the members of foreign affairs committees to address bilateral trade, regional stability and U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, the speaker of the Russian lower house, Boris Gryzlov said: "Bilateral ties currently enjoy new possibilities and are being driven forward with increasing pace."
According to Leonid Slutsky, a deputy chairman of the State Duma committee on foreign affairs, the participants of the meeting will discuss plans for a U.S. missile shield in central Europe, and other issues related to NATO.
A discussion of the Jackson-Vanik amendment is also expected.
The Jackson-Vanik amendment was passed in 1974 and restricted trade with the Soviet Union over human rights violations. The amendment, which still applies to Russia, puts restrictions on Russian-American trade relations, but Russia`s accession to the World Trade Organization would require the amendment be lifted.
"We will also discuss topics that have emerged recently in the light of the move to `press the reset button` in bilateral relations and `re-launch` the START treaty," Slutsky said.
Russia and the U.S. have been involved in comprehensive talks over a new nuclear arms reduction deal to replace the START 1 treaty, which expires in December.
The START 1 treaty obliges Russia and the United States to reduce nuclear warheads to 6,000 and their delivery vehicles to 1,600 each. In 2002, a follow-up agreement on strategic offensive arms reduction was concluded in Moscow. The agreement, known as the Moscow Treaty, envisioned cuts to 1,700-2,200 warheads by December 2012.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama agreed to launch the discussions during their first meeting, in London in early April.
Russia, which proposed a new arms reduction agreement in 2005, expects Washington to agree on a deal that would restrict not only the numbers of nuclear warheads, but also place limits on all existing kinds of delivery vehicles.
Medvedev has also said that any strategic arms cuts would only be possible if the United States alleviated Russia`s concerns over Washington`s plans for a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.
The U.S. military has recently reiterated its commitment to missile defense, citing a growing threat from North Korea and Iran, but suggested plans for a European site may change.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that Russian facilities could be part of the missile defense system, but Moscow has rejected this idea, saying there could be no partnership "in building facilities that are essentially designed to counter Russia`s strategic deterrence forces."
 
Original article

Ousted Honduran leader to take part in emergency Nicaragua summit

(PRESIDENT, HONDURAN, ZELAYA, LEADER, COUNTRY, CALLED)


Ousted Honduran leader to take part in emergency Nicaragua summitHonduras Crisis : Soldiers ousted the democratically elected president
MEXICO CITY, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya, deposed in a coup on Sunday, has flown from Costa-Rica to Nicaragua to take part in an emergency regional summit, Mexican media reported on Monday.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez provided his personal plane to take Zelaya to the summit, which will see the participation of over 15 regional leaders, including those of Mexico, Ecuador and Cuba. The situation in Honduras will top the agenda.
Chavez, one of Zelaya`s strongest allies, also threatened military action if Venezuela`s envoy in Honduras was attacked.
Honduran military arrested Zelaya on Sunday morning, the same day polls were due to open for a referendum on the extension of his non-renewable four-year term of office.
The country`s Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal. The president was arrested at his residence and transported aboard a military plane to Costa-Rica in what was Central America`s first coup since the end of the Cold War.
Interim president, Roberto Micheletti, imposed an overnight curfew in the country after taking power. However, Zaleya supporters have set up barricades near the presidential place and there have been unconfirmed reports of shots being fired.
Honduran trade union leader Angel Alvarado has called for a nationwide strike in support of Zelaya.
World leaders have condemned the coup, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging "the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country". U.S. President Barack Obama has called on the coup leaders to "respect the rule of law."
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the coup a "suicidal mistake" in an article published early on Monday.
 
Original article

British taxpayers` funding of Queen rises to $68.5 mln a year

(QUEEN, MILLION, POUNDS, ROYAL, PALACE, SPENDING)


British taxpayers` funding of Queen rises to $68.5 mln a yearLONDON, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Queen Elisabeth II is getting increasingly expensive to British taxpayers, with state funding up by about 4% to 41.5 million pounds ($68.5 million) over the past year, the Royal Family said in a report on Monday.
Under an annual financial report, every Briton annually currently spends 69 pence ($1.14) on the maintenance of the Royal family, while the sum was 66 pence ($1.09) last year.
The Queen receives the annual payment of 7.9 million pounds ($13 million) from the government to perform her duties as head of state. The sum covers visits, the participation of the Queen and Prince Philip in official events, and wages to Palace employees.
Elisabeth II is also granted 15 million pounds ($24.7 million) annually to maintain her residences.
However, the Royal Household is seeking some 32 million pounds ($52.8 million) for the maintenance of the palaces.
Meanwhile, the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees the maintenance of the royal palaces, warned that the Queen was likely to face a cut in spending amid the current economic crisis.
Government spending on the Royal Family has to be reviewed by December 2010. The issue is expected to be discussed soon after the next parliamentary polls slated to be held by May 2010.
The parliamentary spending watchdog published a report earlier in June saying it had failed to obtain an independent expert confirmation of royal spending.
The Queen also rejected in June a recommendation from MPs to raise funds by opening Buckingham Palace to tourists year-round.
 
Original article

Russia ready for more NATO cargo transits to Afghanistan

(AFGHANISTAN, RUSSIA, TRANSIT, MILITARY, GERMANY, FRANCE)


Russia ready for more NATO cargo transits to AfghanistanFacing the Taliban in Afghanistan
UN Secretary General welcomes Russia`s role in restoration of Afghanistan
CORFU (Greece), June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is ready to extend the transit of military cargoes through Russia to other key member nations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, a deputy foreign minister has said.
Russia already has bilateral transit deals with Germany, France and Spain, and Moscow also signed an agreement with NATO in 2008 on rail transits of non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.
"As for military transits, we have signed agreements with Germany, France and Spain. We are also considering a request from Italy," Alexander Grushko told a news conference late on Sunday after an informal meeting of the Russia-NATO Council.
Due to worsening security on the main land route from Pakistan, NATO is seeking alternative routes to supply the U.S.-dominated ISAF in Afghanistan.
There are 62,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, and U.S. President Barrack Obama has pledged to deploy another 17,000 U.S. military personnel to the war-ravaged country.
The informal foreign ministerial meeting of the Council on Saturday was the first high-level talks since last August`s five-day war between Russia and Georgia, after which contacts were frozen. Russia then recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which was attacked by Tbilisi in an attempt to bring it back under central control.
Relations between Russia and NATO have also been frayed in recent years over the military alliance`s eastern expansion. Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, have applied to join, but their U.S.-backed bids were turned down due to pressure from Germany and France at a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.
NATO and Russia have recently taken measures to step up cooperation on international security, including anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden.
 
Original article

Iran starts partial recount of disputed presidential vote

(RECOUNT, MEDIA, MONDAY, GUARDIAN, ELECTION, AHMADINEJAD)


Iran starts partial recount of disputed presidential voteTens of thousands in Iran protest
Iran campaigning heats up
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Iranian authorities have begun a partial recount of the fiercely disputed June 12 presidential vote, national media said on Monday.
The Guardian Council has started a random recount of 10% of ballot papers, the Mehr News agency said.
The opposition, however, has demanded a rerun of the vote, claiming the election that returned hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power was marred by widespread irregularities. No opposition members are on the panel carrying out the recount.
The Guardian Council has repeatedly refused to annul the vote, saying there were no major violations.
Ahmadinejad`s landslide victory triggered days of protests by defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi`s supporters. Regional media reports said 20 people were killed in the post-election violence, Iran`s most serious disturbances since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The recount will be completed on Monday afternoon and the results will be announced later in the day.
 
Original article

Russia, Argentina introduce visa-free travel

(COUNTRIES, ARGENTINA, RUSSIA, RUSSIAN, ARGENTINE, VISIT)


Russia, Argentina introduce visa-free travelAmong Latin American countries, Argentina takes the lead in the number of immigrants from Russia
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian-Argentine agreement scrapping bilateral visa requirements entered into force on Monday.
The agreement will allow Russians and Argentines to visit each others` countries for up to 90 days without having to apply for visas.
However, visas will still be required for citizens wishing to remain in Russia or Argentina for more than 90 days or run a business.
The deal was reached during the visit of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to Russia in December 2008 and was signed by the governments of the two countries in March.
Last year some 6,000 Russians visited Argentina. About 3,000 Argentines visit Russia annually.
Argentina is the fifth state in Latin America to scrap visa requirements for Russian citizens, following Venezuela, Cuba, Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
Similar agreements are also expected to be signed with Brazil and Chile.
 
Original article

Medvedev to discuss energy, trade during Azerbaijan visit

(AZERBAIJAN, TRADE, ECONOMIC, COOPERATION, SOURCE, NATURAL)


Medvedev to discuss energy, trade during Azerbaijan visitTop plays of the World Cup 2010 qualifier Russia vs. Azerbaijan
MOSCOW, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Azerbaijan on Monday to discuss trade and economic cooperation, including in the energy sector, a Kremlin source said.
"Talks between the leaders of the two countries will focus on the development of trade and economic ties, including effective cooperation during the global economic crisis," the source said.
According to the source, bilateral trade grew by 39.3% to $2.4 billion in 2008, but decreased by 16.9% in the first quarter of 2009 year-on-year due to the global financial crunch.
One of the key areas of cooperation to be discussed during the visit is the supply of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Russia.
Azerbaijan has proven natural gas reserves of some 1.5 trillion cubic meters. The South Caucasus country annually consumes 14 billion cubic meters of gas.
Gazprom`s CEO Alexei Miller said last Friday the Russian energy giant was planning to sign an agreement with Azerbaijan`s state oil and gas company on natural gas supplies from Shah Deniz, the country`s largest gas field. Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev has said Baku sees no obstacles to the gas deal.
 
Original article

Obama focuses on Senate after first climate win

(OBAMA, WOULD, ENERGY, SENATE, CLIMATE, US, CHANGE)


Obama focuses on Senate after first climate winBy Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, fresh from his first legislative victory on climate policy, expressed confidence on Monday that new greenhouse gas emission limits would become law with help from the U.S. Senate.
Obama also announced new measures on efficiency standards for lighting used in homes and businesses to take effect in 2012.
The House of Representatives passed a climate change bill on Friday that would require large companies, including utilities and manufacturers, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels.
The Democratic president and many environmentalists declared the passage a historic step forward for U.S. energy policy, while Republicans and other opponents called it a massive tax that would not succeed in fighting climate change.
The bill gives Obama a stronger case to assert U.S. leadership on global warming at a meeting of the world`s major emitters next week on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Italy.
But the president`s victory may be short lived. The U.S. Senate must now shape its version of the same bill, and the chances of passage there are murky.
Obama and his top environmental aide, Carol Browner, expressed confidence that success would come in the Senate as well.
"In the months to come, the Senate will take up its version of the energy bill, and I am confident that they too will choose to move this country forward," Obama told reporters.
Browner declined to speculate on the timing of a Senate vote but referred to statements by Majority Leader Harry Reid that work would be done on the bill this autumn.
"I am confident that ... comprehensive energy legislation will pass the Senate," she said.
U.N. talks on a new global pact to fight climate change take place in December in Copenhagen, and analysts say having a U.S. law passed by then would boost chances of reaching an international agreement.
Obama has said he wants the United States to lead the world in fighting climate change.
EFFICIENCY STANDARDS
The new efficiency standards announced by the president apply to fluorescent and incandescent lamps, which represent 37 and 7 percent of lighting energy use, respectively, the White House said. They would save up to 594 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2042, the White House said.
Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu also announced they were accelerating a $346 million investment of stimulus funds to be used in making new and existing homes as well as commercial buildings more energy efficient.  Continued...
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House passes landmark climate change bill

Power struggle impedes New York gay marriage vote

(NEW, STATE, YORK, MARRIAGE, RIGHTS, DEMOCRATS, PARADE)


Power struggle impedes New York gay marriage voteBy Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York`s annual Gay Pride parade was a colorful celebration of 40 years of progress toward civil rights for gays, but once the dust settled, gay couples who wish to marry in New York state remain thwarted.
A bill to legalize gay marriage in the state that saw the dawn of the gay rights movement is mired in political stalemate in the state capital Albany, where Democrats and Republicans are battling over control of the state Senate.
"I had hoped today`s march would have been a bit of a wedding march. It`s not," Christine Quinn, the gay speaker of the New York City Council, said at Sunday`s Gay Pride parade. Held annually, this year`s event marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York`s Greenwich Village, which triggered the modern U.S. gay rights movement.
"We are disappointed. ... But I know there have been other times our community has been disappointed and you need to keep fighting," Quinn said at the start of the parade, which organizers said drew more than a million people.
Gay couples can marry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa and will be allowed marry in Vermont starting in September and in New Hampshire from January. Other states offer same-sex unions that grant many of the same rights as marriage.
Forty-two U.S. states explicitly prohibit gay marriage, including 29 with constitutional amendments, according to Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group.
In May, the New York state Assembly, where Democrats hold a majority, voted by a wide margin to legalize gay marriage.
On June 8, state Senate Republicans engineered a coup by getting two Democrats to switch allegiance and vote in a new leadership, effectively erasing the slim 32-30 majority the Democrats won in the November 2008 election.
But Democrats have refused to recognize the leadership vote and one of the senators has since rejoined the Democrats, creating an even 31-31 split in the chamber.
New York Governor David Paterson has vowed to bring gay marriage to a state Senate vote before the end of the current legislative session -- which has already been extended due to the deadlock. But Paterson can not force a vote, and it is not clear if it would pass, or even if such a vote would be legal.
Even the state`s main gay rights organization has called on the Senate to resolve the leadership dispute first and not treat gay marriage as "a political football." With no immediate prospect of a resolution to the crisis, supporters of the bill are left wondering if it will come to a vote this year.
"There certainly have been moments of high adrenaline and great disappointment ... but I`m always optimistic," said Senator Tom Duane, the bill`s sponsor, at Sunday`s parade.
Many at Sunday`s parade said they thought gay marriage was inevitable in New York.
"I think every year we see great advances. I mean, this year New Hampshire passed gay marriage and Iowa, of all places," said Brent Hayrynen, 63. "We`ll get there."
(Reporting by Edith Honan; editing by Claudia Parsons and Todd Eastham)
Original article

U.S. lawmaker probes device over minority radio data

(RADIO, ARBITRON, DEVICE, MINORITY, TOWNS, STATION, GROUPS)


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key U.S. lawmaker said on Monday he has launched an investigation into Arbitron Inc`s device to track the public`s listening habits because it may under represent some ethnic and age groups.
Arbitron is a media ratings service company that makes the device called the Portable People Meter (PPM) to measure radio station listenership.
The device has been controversial due to criticisms within the radio industry and state governments that have pointed to some of its flaws. The company still plans to deploy the devices even with the lack of accreditation from the Media Rating Council.
"I remain deeply concerned that without deliberate and timely investigations into this matter the increased use of PPM will further threaten the financial viability of minority targeted radio stations," said Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Towns said he was concerned that the device hasn`t been distributed within minority communities and Arbitron missed a group of households that use only cell phones.
Not having a proper representation of certain groups imperils the financial viability of minority audience radio stations that depend on advertising revenues.
"To date, many of these stations continue to suffer from significant downgrades in ratings, threatening the extent of their programing or even ultimate closure," Towns said in the letter to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
Towns said Arbitron has made an effort to correct some flaws in implementing the device as part of settlement agreements reached with New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
But he said he wants to know what the regulatory agency has found from a recent study into the device.
Arbitron said in a statement that it looks forward to sharing its expertise and insights based on its long history of gathering, distributing and supporting data and information.
"We maintain an ongoing dialogue with broadcasters, industry groups, advertising agencies, the Federal Communications Commission, and Congress as part of our commitment to continuous improvement program for the PPM service and technologies," said Arbitron President Michael Skarzynski.
In January Arbitron agreed to pay New York $260,000 and another $130,000 to New Jersey to resolve claims that it undercounted minority radio listeners. As part of a settlement reached with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the company agreed to also pay $100,000 to the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and the Spanish Radio Association to support minority radio.
Towns, a New York Democrat, said he wants to hear back from the FCC by July 1.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Richard Chang)
Original article

Obama voices support for Colombia trade deal

(TRADE, COLOMBIA, OBAMA, US, URIBE, CONGRESS, PRESIDENT)


By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama expressed hope that Congress would eventually approve a long-delayed free trade agreement with Colombia, but said that country needed to make more progress on human rights first.
"There remains work to do. But I`m confident that ultimately we can strike a deal that is good for the people and good for the people of the United States," Obama told reporters after a meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
In remarks in the White House Oval Office, Obama said he did not have "a strict timetable" for submitting the trade deal to Congress because he already had a busy legislative agenda this year and needed to consult with lawmakers first.
But he said Colombia could improve chances for the pact by making further progress on a number of human rights concerns that have blocked approval of the pact since it was signed by officials in the administration of former President George W. Bush in November 2006.
"President Uribe has assured me that he is interested in resolving those issues, and as I said great progress has been made. I trust that we can make more progress and I think that will help shape the overall environment in which this issue is being debated in Congress," Obama said.
Uribe said approval of the pact would send an important U.S. "signal of confidence" in Colombia, adding that his government was open to any U.S. advice on how it could improve its human rights record.
It was Obama`s second meeting with Uribe, a conservative politician who enjoyed a close relationship with Bush and whose country has received more than $6 billion in U.S. military and other aid under the Plan Colombia program since 1999.
Obama opposed the free trade agreement during last year`s presidential election campaign on the grounds that Colombia had not done enough to reduce killings of trade unionists and prosecute those responsible for the crimes.
The AFL-CIO labor federation, the United States` largest labor group, remains strongly opposed to the free trade agreement, as do many Democratic members of Congress.
When Bush tried to force a vote on the agreement in April 2007, he lost a showdown with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who instead pushed through a legislative rule change to indefinitely delay action on the pact.
"I think the burden is not simply on Colombia," Obama noted on Monday. "I think Colombia has done a lot of excellent work. It is a matter of getting both countries to a place where their legislatures feel confident that it will be ultimately to the economic benefits of these countries."
Obama, after meeting Uribe for the first time at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in April, asked U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to work with Colombia and Congress on a plan to enact the pact.
Uribe also met on Monday with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and World Bank Robert Zoellick. Zoellick launched the U.S. free trade talks with Colombia in May 2004, when he was Bush`s trade representative.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Todd Eastham)
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