Jumaat, 27 September 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Refugee boat sinks on way to Australia, 21 dead - Indonesian police


JAKARTA (Reuters) - A boat carrying migrants to Australia sank off the Indonesian coast on Friday, killing at least 21 people, Indonesian police said, a sign that Australia's tough new immigration rules may not be enough to deter would-be asylum seekers.

The latest disaster to strike refugees using Indonesia's southern coast to try to reach Australia will cast a shadow over a visit to Jakarta on Monday by Australia's new conservative prime minister Tony Abbott, whose tough stance on immigration was at the heart of his election campaign.

About 400 boats carrying asylum seekers have arrived in Australia over the past 12 months and about 45,000 asylum seekers have arrived since late 2007, when the former Labour government relaxed border policies, eventually tightening them again in the face of a voter backlash.

"All the passengers were from the Middle East. There were people from Lebanon and Yemen. The boat was going to Australia. Their next destination was Christmas Island," Dedy Kusuma Bakti, police chief in Cianjur, West Java, told Reuters by telephone on Saturday.

Bakti said 28 survivors had been rescued. Some Indonesian media reported as many as 79 people might have drowned in the incident, although there was no official confirmation of a toll that high.

Situated in the Indian Ocean not far from Indonesia, the Australian territory of Christmas Island is a frequent destination for refugee boats from Indonesia and a favoured route for people-smugglers.

Indonesian media reported that the motor boat sank off the south coast of Java near the town of Tegalbulued, about 190 km (120 miles) south of Jakarta.

The steady flow of refugee boats is a hot political issue in Australia, polarising voters and stoking tension with neighbours like Indonesia and Sri Lanka over hardline border security policies that have been criticised by the United Nations.

In July, Canberra announced tough new measures to stem a sharp increase in the number of refugee boats heading for Australia from Indonesia. The new government has also stopped providing regular information on asylum boats turned away and emergencies at sea.

The new plans have been condemned by human rights groups, with Amnesty International accusing Australia of shirking its moral obligations to help the world's most vulnerable people.

Abbott has made Indonesia his first overseas destination since winning a general election on September 7.

He will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to seek support for his plan to have Australia's navy turn migrants away and stop people traffickers operating from Indonesian ports.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and other lawmakers have criticised Abbott's offer to pay Indonesian villagers for intelligence on people-smuggling gangs, and ridiculed the proposal to buy fishing boats often used to smuggle migrants, preferring to treat the issue as a regional problem.

(Reporting by Rieka Rahadiana and Kanupriya Kapoor,; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher and Fergus Jensen; Editing by Paul Tait)

Italian PM to call confidence vote as government nears collapse


ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will call a confidence vote in parliament after a showdown with centre-right partners in his fragile coalition scuppered a vital package of budget measures on Friday and took his government to the brink of collapse.

Letta flew back from a visit to New York with coalition unity already in tatters after a threat by centre-right lawmakers to walk out over former premier Silvio Berlusconi's battle against a conviction for tax fraud.

"Efficient government action is obviously incompatible with the mass resignation of a parliamentary group which should support the government," Letta said in a statement after a cabinet meeting on Friday.

"Either there is a new start and the interests of the country and its citizens are put first or this experience is at an end," he said.

Regional Affairs Minister Graziano Delrio said Letta, who met President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday, would go before parliament in the next few days to seek backing to continue.

After two days of mounting tension and with financial markets on edge, Letta met ministers in a last-ditch bid to secure approval for additional budget measures needed to bring Italy's deficit within European Union limits.

The meeting was also intended to satisfy a key demand of the centre-right and avert the sales tax from rising to 22 percent, from 21 percent. The tax increase was passed by the previous government of Mario Monti and rates are due to rise on Tuesday.

However with the meeting still in progress, officials made clear that no deal could be reached.

Failure to agree on some 3 billion euros ($4.06 billion) of budget measures, demanded by both Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL), underlined the breakdown between the two traditional rivals that were forced together by last February's deadlocked election.

Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, who has staked his credibility on meeting the EU budget limits and faced constant sniping from the PDL over recent months, was furious at the breakdown, officials said.

PDL lawmakers said proposals to avert the rise in sales tax would have been funded by an increase in fuel duties that would have punished consumers and simply replaced one tax by another.

"We can't accept the blame for this," PDL secretary Angelino Alfano, who is also deputy prime minister, told the cabinet, according to one official. "We can't stay in the government if taxes are going up and there are no cuts to spending," he said.


Letta's left-right coalition has flirted with collapse ever since Italy's top court convicted former premier Berlusconi of tax fraud last month and sentenced him to four years in prison, commuted to a year of house arrest or community service.

On Wednesday, PDL lawmakers said they would resign en masse if a Senate committee meeting on October 4 votes to begin proceedings to expel their leader from parliament, under legislation that bars convicted criminals.

On returning to Italy on Friday after courting foreign investors in New York, Letta met President Napolitano who, if the government fell, would have to either call new elections or try to oversee the creation of a new coalition.

A spokesman for the president's office said the head of state, who has repeatedly said he does not want a return to the polls, had given Letta his full support to seek the backing of cabinet and parliament.

Opinion polls suggest the two main blocs in parliament have roughly equal support among voters and under Italy's widely criticised electoral system, any new election would probably produce another stalemate.

If Letta, who has a commanding majority in the lower house, can secure the backing of a few dozen Senators among PDL rebels or opposition parties including the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, he could form a new coalition.

With Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, struggling with a two-year long recession, a 2 trillion euro public debt and youth unemployment of around 40 percent, the wrangling has prevented meaningful reforms.

The political convulsions have increasingly worried investors, although with the European Central Bank guaranteeing stability in the markets, there has been none of the panic seen during previous crises.

At an auction of 10-year bonds on Friday, Italy's borrowing costs rose to their highest level in three months, while the premium investors demand to hold Italian debt rather than AAA-rated German paper widened to 267 basis points from under 250 at the start of the week.

($1 = 0.7385 euros)

(Additional reporting by Francesca Landini, Catherine Hornby, Antonella Cinelli, Roberto Landucci and Gavin Jones; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Lisa Shumaker)

Obama to House Republicans: Don't burn down the house over fiscal fight


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama warned congressional Republicans on Friday they were on the brink of triggering a government shutdown and a historic debt default and urged them not to "burn down the house" to try to extract budget concessions from him.

Obama made an appearance in the White House briefing room to push for Congress to end its infighting as twin deadlines loom: The federal government will run out of cash on Tuesday unless Congress approves a spending bill to keep it open, and will default on its debts if the U.S. borrowing limit is not extended by October 17 at the latest.

Republicans are using both deadlines to try to extract concessions from Obama and his Democrats, including a delay in the healthcare law that informally bears his name, "Obamacare."

"Our message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time. Pay our bills on time. Refocus on the everyday concerns of the American people," Obama said.

His appearance was in line with a strategy to deal with the threat of a government shutdown and default at a distance, denouncing lawmakers he feels are responsible and avoiding getting caught in a crossfire between conservative and centrist Republicans.

Republicans have spent much of the past week attacking each other, leaving House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner without a unified following.

Obama made clear he did not intend to get involved in negotiations with congressional leaders. In similar recent budget battles, he engaged in exasperating talks with Boehner, the top Republican in Congress.

In this case, he has resolutely refused, rejecting any attempt by the conservative wing of the Republican-led House to negotiate over funding his signature healthcare law or other spending measures they would like to cut.

"There will be areas where we can work together. There will be areas where we disagree. But do not threaten to burn the house down simply because you haven't gotten 100 percent of your way. That's not how our democracy is supposed to work."

He and the White House have engaged in increasingly strong rhetoric as the week has progressed. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer raised eyebrows on Thursday by telling CNN the White House would not negotiate "with people with a bomb strapped to their chest."


Obama accused Republicans of "political grandstanding," a reaction to conservative Republicans like Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, whose 21-hour Senate floor speech earlier this week was mostly an attack on the healthcare law but also included a reading from Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" children's book.

"I don't know how I can be more clear about this. Nobody gets to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States just to extract political concessions. No one gets to hurt our economy and millions of innocent people just because there are a couple of laws that you do not like," Obama said.

White House officials say Obama is open to negotiating with Congress about spending priorities. But a senior official added, "Obviously between now and October 1, there is no time to negotiate."

As a result, Obama backed a Senate vote for a short-term spending measure to keep the government running in order to buy some time.

He urged the House to follow the Senate's lead, but a spokesman for Boehner made clear that would not happen.

"The House will take action that reflects the fundamental fact that Americans don't want a government shutdown and they don't want the train wreck that is Obamacare. Grandstanding from the president, who refuses to even be a part of the process, won't bring Congress any closer to a resolution," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.

Obama and Boehner have not spoken since the president issued a stern warning to the speaker in a phone call last Friday that he would not negotiate over the debt limit.

Obama's no-negotiations strategy carries some risks. He could shoulder some of the political fallout for a shutdown or a debt default in spite of his efforts to lay the blame at the Republicans' feet.

The president's job approval rating has sagged in recent weeks, under the weight of his battle with Republicans and his zig-zag policy on Syria, first threatening military action over the use of chemical weapons before seeking a diplomatic solution.

A CBS News poll this week said Obama's approval rating had dropped to 43 percent, the lowest since March 2012, against 49 percent who disapproved.

Analysts say the approach that Obama is taking to the latest budget battles is about the only one available to him.

"It is practically speaking the only thing he can do," said Norm Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "Let's face it, what they're asking for now is a huge laundry list of things unrelated to the debt."

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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