World trade plummets by 12%
Global trade flows contracted by a catastrophic 12% in 2009, the fastest pace since the second world war, Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organisation revealed today, as he urged its 153 member countries to breathe new life into the ailing Doha trade round. This latest estimate is considerably worse than the WTO’s previous forecast of a 10% decline for last year, underlining the hefty costs of the financial crisis for the world economy. “The main explanation for this freefall in trade has been the simultaneous reduction in aggregate demand across all major world economies,” Lamy told a conference in Brussels.
Strikes in Greece bring country to a halt
This week police in Greece clashed with protesters striking over austerity measures designed to save the economy. Police fired tear gas at a group of some 50 protesters as a rally attended by some 25,000 people ended in Athens. It is the second general strike in two weeks and coincides with growing anger at the EU’s response to the crisis. The action was the biggest since Greece’s socialist government introduced cuts to bring the country’s debt and deficit under control. Greece closed airspace to all flights, while trains and ferries stood idle and archaeological sites remained shut for the day. The country currently has a spiralling public deficit of 12.7%, more than four times higher than eurozone rules allow. The government has pledged to cut this to 8.7% this year, and also reduce the 300bn-euro ($419bn; £259bn) national debt, by freezing public sector salaries, raising the average retirement age to 63 by 2015, and increasing taxes on petrol, alcohol and tobacco. It also wants to crack down on tax avoidance. Greece’s black economy is estimated at 30% of official gross domestic product.
Turkey warns Israel against striking Iran
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of an Israeli strike in Iran, saying it would lead to a “disaster in the entire region.” In an interview to Spanish newspaper El Pais published on Monday, the Turkish PM responded to a question on the results of a pre-emptive Israeli strike in the Islamic Republic saying, “this would have unforeseeable consequences that I would not even want to imagine.” He stressed that the dispute between the West and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program must be resolved through diplomatic channels, and added that economic sanctions would also have an impact on the entire region. “Don’t leave the negotiations table until the end of the process,” he said. In the past, Turkey has offered to mediate in talks, but the Iranians objected.
However, Israel is concerned about Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “There are three strong countries in the Middle East that are not Arab,” he said. “Israel has always been rooted in the West. Iran was once Western but is currently the leader of radical Islam. The third is Turkey, which used to be close to the West but in recent years has begun to look eastward, towards Iran, and that is why its systematic glide east should worry us.”
U.S. plans for possible delay in Iraq withdrawal
The U.S. military has prepared contingency plans to delay the planned withdrawal of all combat forces in Iraq, citing the prospects for political instability and increased violence as Iraqis hold national elections next month. Under a deadline set by President Obama, all combat forces are slated to withdraw from Iraq by the end of August, and there remains heavy political pressure in Washington and Baghdad to stick to that schedule. But Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday that he had briefed officials in Washington in the past week about possible contingency plans. Odierno declined to describe the plans in detail and said he was optimistic they would not be necessary. But he said he was prepared to make the changes “if we run into problems” in the coming months. Under Obama’s plan, about 50,000 troops will remain in the country through 2011 to train Iraqi forces, perform counterterrorism operations and help with civilian projects.
The United States has signed a legal agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw all forces by the end of 2011. U.S. commanders have already reduced the presence in Iraq to about 96,000 military personnel, Odierno said – the first time since the 2003 invasion that fewer than 100,000 U.S. troops have been in the country. The U.S. military presence reached a peak of 166,000 troops in October 2007. “Right now, our plan is to be at 50,000 by the 1st of September,” he said. “And if you ask me today, I’m fully committed and I believe that’s the right course of action.”
Pakistan received $18 billion for siding with America’s war against Islam
Pakistan received nearly $18 billion as aid from the United States, including $11.5 billion as military assistance, according to Congressional documents. A Congressional compilation of the US aid to Pakistan says Islamabad has received $6 billion in civilian aid after the September 11 attack in New York. The Obama Administration, in its latest annual budget, has proposed $1.6 billion in military assistance and about $1.4 billion as civilian assistance to Pakistan. This takes the total US aid to Pakistan to more than $20.7 billion post 9/11, according to the data compiled from information received from the Departments of Defence, State and Agriculture and US Agency for International Development. Of the military assistance, the maximum amount $7.345 billion has gone to Pakistan as Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which many do not consider as foreign assistance as this is reimbursement that Pakistan receives for its support of the US military operations in Afghanistan. This is followed by $2.164 billion as Foreign Military Assistance. After coming to power, the Obama Administration has so far provided $1.1 billion ($400 million in 2009 and $700 million in 2010) for Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund/Counterinsurgency Capability Fund. For the year 2011, Obama has proposed to the US Congress $1.2 billion for Pakistan under this category. Non-military assistance to Pakistan has increased considerably under the Obama Administration, which is mainly attributable to the Kerry-Lugar- Berman bill, which grants $7.5 billion to Pakistan in five years beginning 2009.