- Lawyers for China premier's family deny "hidden riches" claim
- Threat of Hurricane Sandy grows as it targets U.S. East Coast
- Saudi authorities disperse anti-Assad protest in Mecca
Posted: 27 Oct 2012 07:43 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - Lawyers representing the family of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have rejected claims made by the New York Times on Friday that they have accumulated at least $2.7 billion in "hidden riches", Hong Kong media reported on Sunday.
The New York Times, citing corporate and regulatory records, reported on Friday that Wen's mother, siblings and children had amassed the majority of their wealth since Wen was named Vice Premier in 1998.
In a statement issued late on Saturday and carried by Hong Kong television as well as the South China Morning Post and Sing Tao Daily newspapers, Bai Tao of the Junhe Law Office and Wang Weidong of the Grandall Law Firm said the wealth "does not exist".
They also denied that Wen had acted improperly or engaged in business activities himself, and said his relatives had not profited in any way from his tenure as premier and had no influence on Wen's "formulation and execution of policies".
The statement said Wen's mother had never received any income or property apart from her salary and pension.
Telephone calls made to the law firms by Reuters were not answered.
The Times' report said the names of family members "have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners".
It said his family's holdings include a Beijing villa development project, a tyre factory in northern China, a company involved in building some of the venues for Beijing's 2008 Olympics including the "Bird's Nest" main stadium, and Ping An Insurance, one of the world's largest financial services companies.
The New York Times report came at a sensitive time for Beijing, with China about to undergo a once-in-a-decade change of leadership in which Wen will step down as premier.
The newspaper's websites in English and Chinese were immediately blocked in China, and searches for the New York Times as well as the names of Wen's children and wife were blocked on China's main Twitter-like microblog service.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing on Friday that the report "smears China's name and has ulterior motives".
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 27 Oct 2012 07:14 PM PDT
HATTERAS ISLAND, North Carolina (Reuters) - Hurricane Sandy closed in on the United States on Saturday as coastal communities along the East Coast scrambled to prepare for torrential rains, high winds, major flooding and power outages a week before the presidential election.
Governors in states in the hurricane's path declared emergencies, announcing mandatory evacuations of vulnerable areas. New York City officials discussed whether to shut the subway system on Sunday in advance of the storm.
On its current projected track, Sandy could make U.S. landfall on Monday night or Tuesday morning anywhere between Maryland and southern New England, forecasters said. Some computer models show a likely landfall between Delaware and the New York/New Jersey area.
The hurricane was headed toward densely populated areas with tens of millions of people. Officials urged residents to stock up on food, water and batteries. Worried residents packed stores, buying generators, candles, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages. Some local governments announced schools would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.
"They're freaking out," said Joe Dautel, a clerk at a hardware store in Glenside, Pennsylvania. "I'm selling people four, five, six packs of batteries - when I had them."
Sandy also threatened to disrupt air travel in the region.
Rain accumulations of up to 12 inches (30 cm) and heavy snowfall inland are considered likely in some areas. As it merges with an Arctic jet stream, forecasters said Sandy has all the ingredients to transform into a "super storm" unlike anything seen over the eastern United States in decades.
"There's no avoiding a significant storm-surge event over a large area. We just can't pinpoint who's going to get the worst of it," National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said.
The White House said President Barack Obama took part in a call with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate to discuss preparations for Sandy.
Coastal flooding posed a major threat, particularly in low-lying areas like New York City, the global financial nerve center, and Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
"This is not a coastal threat alone," Fugate told reporters, warning of the potential for flooding in Maryland and Pennsylvania, as well as more than 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow in West Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania. "This is going to go well inland," he added.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell ordered a mandatory evacuation of an estimated 50,000 people in coastal communities on Saturday. New Jersey's Cape May County ordered an evacuation of its barrier islands, home to some popular beach resorts, by Sunday afternoon.
In New York, authorities were considering closing down the city's buses, subways, commuter railroads, bridges and tunnels as early as 7 p.m. on Sunday, when the last commuter trains would depart, with the entire system to be closed down by 3 a.m. Monday, officials said.
Sandy was located about 330 miles (530 km) south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and packing top sustained winds of 75 miles (120 km) per hour on Saturday evening, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. The storm was still moving slowly over the Atlantic at 13 miles per hour (20 kph).
Forecasters said flooding could span multiple tides with a storm surge of 4 to 8 feet (1.2-2.4 meters) in Long Island Sound, the southern portion of Lower New York Bay and Delaware Bay.
Sandy's storm surge has the potential to flood New York City's subway system if the storm arrives at or near Monday evening's high tide around 9 p.m., according to Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist who also writes a Weather Underground blog.
Monday is also a full moon, which creates an extra-high tide. "These storm surge heights will be among the highest ever recorded along the affected coasts, and will have the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage," Masters wrote.
Officials said 50 to 60 million people could be affected by Sandy, which many forecasters warn could be more destructive than Irene, which caused billions of dollars in damage across the U.S. Northeast in August 2011.
Coming in the hectic run-up to the November 6 election, the storm presented a challenge to the campaigns of Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
As Sandy approached, Romney was rescheduling all of his campaign events planned for Virginia on Sunday and flying to Ohio instead.
Sandy continued to grow in size with tropical storm-force winds extending across 700 miles (1,125 km). More powerful hurricane force winds extended 105 miles (165 km) from its center, increasing the risk of downed trees and power lines, forecasters said.
"The winds... expected to be at or near hurricane strength at landfall... will spread inland for hundreds of miles either side of the storm center," according to a blog posted on Weather Underground (www.wunderground.com) by veteran weather forecaster Bryan Norcross.
"It's hard to imagine how millions of people are not going to be without power for an extended period of time," he added.
As the threat of a monster storm began to sink in, shoppers crowded hardware stores and supermarkets looking to stock up on emergency supplies. At a Trader Joe's store in Millburn, New Jersey, shelves were stripped bare of bread, bottled water and milk.
Customers at a Home Depot in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia, were greeted by big hand-written signs saying, "No generators." The store received a shipment of 50 generators on Friday evening and sold them all within minutes of opening on Saturday, said January Introcaso, one of the store managers.
The store also sold out of flashlights and batteries. It was a similar story at other hardware stores in the area, with candles, tarps and rope also in demand.
Sandy claimed at least 59 lives as it made its way through the Caribbean islands, including 44 people in southern Haiti, mostly from flash flooding and mudslides, according to authorities. Another 11 people died in Cuba, largely due to from collapsed buildings, officials said.
Tropical storm-force winds were being felt near the North Carolina coast. There were tropical storm warnings for all of the coastal portion of the state, along with about half of South Carolina.
Along North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands, which jut out into the Atlantic, the winds and rains increased on Saturday, and ferry service between Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands on the Outer banks was suspended.
"Right now it's blowing pretty hard," said Ray Waller, manager of the Ocracoke office of North Carolina Ferry Division.
(This version of the story corrects the location of Cape Hatteras to North Carolina in paragraph 14.)
(Additional reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia, Ellen Wulfhorst in New York, Mary Ellen Clark in Connecticut and Sam Youngman in Washington; Writing by David Adams and Tom Brown; Editing by Will Dunham)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 27 Oct 2012 06:09 PM PDT
MECCA (Reuters) - Saudi authorities quickly dispersed a protest by hundreds of Syrian pilgrims calling for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and denouncing what they said was international failure to stop bloodshed in Syria, a Reuters witness said.
Protesters held up rebel flags and marched toward the Jamarat Bridge in Mina, east of the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, where more than 3 million Muslim pilgrims congregated for the annual haj.
No one was hurt when two police vehicles drove slowly in the direction of the protesters with the sirens on as the officers asked the crowd through loudspeakers to leave the area. The protesters swiftly dispersed and merged with thousands of other pilgrims in the area, the witness said.
Saudi officials made it clear in recent days that they want a politics-free pilgrimage and urged pilgrims to focus on performing the rituals.
The haj pilgrimage is one of the Muslim faith's so-called five pillars and a religious duty for all Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime if they are capable. It started on Wednesday and ends on Tuesday.
This year's haj took place against a backdrop of divisions among Muslims, with Shi'ite Iran and U.S.-allied Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar backing opposing sides in Syria's civil war.
Saudi Arabia has led Arab efforts to isolate President Bashar al-Assad's government and has supported the rebels with money and logistics.
At the protest, dozens of security guards already deployed in the area stood by without interfering.
"Syria lives forever despite of you Assad," the protesters shouted as the streamed by a giant wall at Jamarat Bridge used for the ritual stoning of the devil, one of the main rites of the haj.
Another slogan went: "We don't want Bashar, all Syrians raise your arms up!"
The Syrian crisis also was evident at Mount Arafat, scene for the haj's main rites, on Thursday when some Syrians held up rebel flags despite a call by Saudi Arabia's grand mufti to avoid raising national and factional slogans.
"We want to make our voices heard because no one seems to listen to us," a man identified as Sabri, 27, a Syrian who lives in Saudi Arabia, said as he held up the rebels' black, white and green flag.
"This is not a political protest. It's more of a humanitarian demonstration because the Syrian question has become a humanitarian one."
The imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque called on Arabs and Muslims on Friday to take "practical and urgent" steps to stop bloodshed in Syria, which has killed some 30,000 people, and urged world states to assume their moral responsibility toward the conflict.
Saudi Arabia has instructed its embassies to issue haj permits for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but most of the Syrians who made it to Mecca were those who live in the Gulf Arab region.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Bill Trott)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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