Rabu, 13 November 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Aquino under pressure over typhoon aid, U.S. carrier to arrive


TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino was under growing pressure on Thursday to speed up the distribution of food, water and medicine to desperate survivors of a powerful typhoon and to get paralysed local governments functioning.

Widespread looting of rice stocks and other supplies broke out across hardest-hit Leyte province on Wednesday despite the deployment of solders to maintain law and order in the wake of one of the world's fiercest typhoons.

While international relief efforts have picked up, many petrol station owners whose businesses were spared have refused to reopen, leaving little fuel for trucks needed to move supplies and medical teams around the devastated areas nearly a week after Typhoon Haiyan struck.

"There are still bodies on the road," said Alfred Romualdez, mayor of the devastated Leyte capital of Tacloban. "It's scary. There is a request from a community to come and collect bodies, they say it's five or 10. When we get there it's 40."

The scarcity of trucks presented grim options. "The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies," he added.

About 300 bodies will be buried in a mass grave on Thursday and a larger grave will be dug for a 1,000, Tacloban city administrator Tecson John Lim told Reuters.

The city government remains decimated, with just 70 workers compared to 2,500 normally, he added. Many were killed, injured, lost family or were simply too overcome with grief to work.

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier was due to arrive in the Philippines on Thursday evening, with 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft. Japan was also planning to send up to 1,000 troops as well as naval vessels and aircraft, in what could be Tokyo's biggest postwar military deployment.


Aquino has been on the defensive over his government's preparations ahead of the storm given repeated warnings of its projected strength and now the pace of relief efforts.

He has said the death toll might have been higher had it not been for the evacuation of people and the readying of relief supplies.

The Philippines formally asked Washington for help on Saturday, one day after the storm slammed into cities and towns in the central Philippines, the U.S. State Department said.

Aquino has also stoked debate over the extent of the casualties, citing a much lower death toll than the 10,000 estimated by local authorities. Official confirmed deaths stood at 2,357 on Thursday, a figure aid workers expect to rise.

City administrator Lim, who previously estimated 10,000 people likely died in Tacloban alone, said Aquino may be deliberately downplaying casualties.

"Of course he doesn't want to create too much panic. Perhaps he is grappling with whether he wants to reduce the panic so that life goes on," he said.

The preliminary number of missing as of Thursday, according to the Red Cross, remained 22,000. It has cautioned that number could include people who have since been located.

More the 544,600 people have been displaced by the storm and nearly 12 percent of the population directly affected, the United Nations said.

Anger and frustration has been boiling over as essential supplies fail to reach many of those in need. Food and other goods have stacked up at the airport in Tacloban, for instance.

Some areas have appeared to teeter near anarchy amid widespread looting of shops and warehouses for food and water.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) described a bleak situation in Guiuan, home to 45,000 people.

"People are living out in the open ... The needs are immense and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organisations," Alexis Moens, MSF's assessment team leader, said in a statement.


Lim said 90 percent of Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 people, had been destroyed by the typhoon and the wall of seawater it shoved ashore.

Only 20 percent of residents were getting aid while houses were being looted because warehouses were empty, he added.

"The looting is not criminality. It is self-preservation," Lim said.

There are not enough flights from Tacloban airport to cope with the exodus from the stricken city.

As darkness fell on Wednesday, Philippine Special Forces held back hundreds of people, many of whom had walked for hours to reach the airport and then waited for days with little or no food or water.

When asked how she and her four children endured three days of waiting in searing heat and torrential downpours, Marivic Badilla, 41, held up a small battered umbrella. "We have been sheltering under this," she said, tears streaming down her face.

Many people complained that military families were given priority to board the C-130 cargo planes.

"If you have a friend or relative in the military, you get priority," said Violeta Duzar, 57, who had waited at the airport since Sunday with eight family members, including children.

None of the aid passing through the airport had been distributed to the needy crowd at its gates.

The overall financial cost of the destruction was hard to assess. Initial estimates varied widely, with a report from German-based CEDIM Forensic Disaster Analysis putting the total at $8 billion to $19 billion.

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Eric dela Cruz in Manila, and Phil Stewart in Washington. Writing by Jason Szep. Editing by Dean Yates)

Israel warns of war from Iran 'bad deal', sees big sanctions cut


(Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that a "bad deal" with Iran on its nuclear programme could lead to war and his aides challenged U.S. assertions to have offered Tehran only "modest" relief from sanctions.

As details emerged of a Western proposal that could let Iran sell oil and gold in return for curbs on its nuclear activities, an Israeli minister said the deal would negate up to 40 percent of the impact of sanctions, reducing pressure on Tehran to halt a programme the West says has a military motive.

Israel, which calculated the value of direct sanctions relief on offer at $15-20 billion, has lobbied hard against any such deal and says the United States, its closest ally, is being misled by overtures of detente coming from Tehran.

Negotiations between Iran and six U.N. powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - are scheduled to resume on November 20 with both sides saying they are optimistic following talks at Geneva last weekend.

One source briefed on the discussions told Reuters that Iran was being offered a chance to sell about $3.5 billion of oil over six months as well as $2-3 billion of petrochemicals and $1-2 billion of gold. The source, who criticised the offer, said it would also let Tehran import some $7.5 billion of food and medicine plus $5 billion of other goods currently barred.

Several Western officials involved in the talks said they would not discuss details while negotiations were under way.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful. The United States and the European Union agree with Israel that it is seeking a nuclear bomb and imposed tough oil and financial sanctions last year that have caused serious economic harm.

Addressing Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said continued economic pressure on Iran was the best alternative to two other options, which he described as a bad deal and war.

"I would go so far as to say that a bad deal could lead to the second, undesired option," he said, meaning war.

Israel, believed to be the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, has long warned it could use force to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon that would threaten the Jewish state, creating tensions with the Obama administration.

Washington says it is important to seek a negotiated solution, especially since Iran elected a relative moderate this year as president, Hassan Rouhani - a man Netanyahu told the United Nations last month was a "wolf in sheep's clothing".


U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that a first phase of any deal with Iran would involve "some very modest relief" from sanctions that would be easily reversible.

But Israel says the benefits to Iran would be greater than implied and Tehran would do little to curb its ambitions.

Netanyahu's point man on Iran policy, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, said on Wednesday the relief package offered could lower the annual cost of sanctions to Iran by up to $40 billion - out of a total annual cost of $100 billion.

He gave no detail of his calculation and, given secrecy surrounding the Western offer, it could not be verified.

Steinitz said Israel believed the sanctions put in place by the United States and European Union last year cost Iran's economy around $100 billion per year, or nearly a quarter of its national output.

"The sanctions relief directly will reduce between $15 to $20 billion out of this amount," Steinitz said at an English-language event hosted by the Jerusalem Press Club.

He also said that the proposed changes would make it more difficult to enforce sanctions overall, and that this could in the end provide a total benefit to Tehran of up to $40 billion.

"The damage to the overall sanctions, we believe, will be something between $20 billion and maybe up to $40 billion," he said. "This is very significant. It's not all the sanctions. It's not the core sanctions about oil exports and the banking system, but it's very significant relief for the Iranians."

Asked about the. $20 billion to $40 billion estimate, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters: "that number, I can assure you, is inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based in reality."

Other Western officials contacted by Reuters declined to confirm or deny specific figures for the value of the sanctions relief on offer from the six powers and cautioned against revealing the terms of a possible deal at such an early stage.

"There is an offer on the table, and it seems to me that is considerable progress. We can't give any technical details and the day anything leaks out is the day someone wants the negotiations to fail," said one Western diplomat.

A European diplomat said details were being withheld on purpose: "A decision was made to keep everything quiet, tightly held," the diplomat said, "Because there are extreme positions on both sides that could use this to discredit the process and try to derail the negotiations."

After Obama discussed the negotiations by telephone with French President Francois Hollande, the White House dismissed talk of a rift with Paris. The two leaders were in "full agreement", it said in a statement, on an offer to Iran that was "a sound step toward assuring the international community that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful".

In words addressing those who question Iran's good faith, Hollande's office said in a statement: "The two heads of state expressed their common will to obtain from Iran guarantees that it is definitively abandoning its military nuclear programme."

Secretary of State John Kerry warned the U.S. Congress, where some members share Israel's scepticism on Iran, that any move by the legislature to impose new sanctions could put an end to negotiations and "break them apart".

(Reporting by Mayaan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller, John Irish, Richard Mably and Dan Williams; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Boeing machinists cast historic vote on labour contract


SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co workers finished voting on a landmark labor contract on Wednesday, with results due around 9 p.m. Pacific Time (0500 GMT) on a historic decision that could forever alter the course of Boeing's presence in Washington state.

The 31,000 International Association of Machinists members are choosing between a tough contract that will secure an estimated 20 years of work building Boeing's newest jet or one that ends their traditional pension plan and raises healthcare costs. If the workers reject the deal, Boeing may try to build the jet, known as the 777X, in non-union states or in Japan.

The union kept most media out of the room where votes were being tallied, a departure from past practice. Media earlier filmed ballots being dropped off at the main union hall from other polling locations.

"This is a highly emotional vote, it's not a usual vote," said Tanya Hutchins, a spokeswoman for the union.

Workers began lining up in predawn darkness on Wednesday outside the union hall in Everett, Washington and elsewhere in the Seattle area and in Oregon. Boeing builds the current 777 model in Everett.

As voting wrapped up around 5 p.m., some workers at the union hall in Seattle said they strongly opposed the deal.

"It goes against everything that we've fought for over the years," said John Orcutt, 42, a 17-year union member and hydraulic tube bender in Auburn, Washington.

Orcutt said he doesn't believe Boeing would build the 777X wing elsewhere because the Washington workforce is trained, tooling for the plane is in place and new production lines are risky. He expects the company to eventually come back with another offer if the contract is voted down.

"I think they're totally bluffing," he said.

But others said they would accept the new deal, fearing Boeing would eliminate 20,000 jobs over the next decade as it moved work elsewhere.

"I don't think Boeing's bluffing at all," said another worker. "They did it with second line of the 787."

Separately, Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney confirmed on Wednesday that Boeing would consider moving production elsewhere, but declined to say if the vote was a "take it or leave it deal," according to an interview with KING 5 TV, Seattle's NBC affiliate station.

"If they turn it down, then we'll figure out what to do next," McNerney said.

Boeing's alternatives include non-union South Carolina, where the company currently assembles 787 Dreamliners and where it broke ground on Tuesday for a new factory that will make engine housings for its forthcoming 737 MAX planes.

Boeing is buying more than 200 acres near the 787 campus to expand its facilities and has agreed to invest more than $1 billion and hire 2,000 more workers over the next eight years.

Boeing also may consider giving the wing work to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Japanese industrial giant that already makes wings for the 787.

Reuters reported exclusively on Tuesday that Mitsubishi had made a detailed proposal to Boeing for building the 777X wing.

Boeing also has facilities in Long Beach, California, where it builds the C-17 military transport plane. That program is ending, freeing space and workers for 777X production.

Some Wall Street analysts expected the union to approve the contract by a slim margin since losing the work is worse than losing the pension.

But a no vote on Wednesday might not mean the 777X ultimately gets built outside Washington, because moving the work would bring logistical headaches, analysts and industry experts said.

Boeing already has a smooth-running factory line in Everett for the 777, its best-selling wide body jet.

It could use the same workforce and large, fixed tooling to build the 777X, an updated version with essentially the same aluminium fuselage, and new wings, engines and systems.

Boeing also is scaling back output of other jets built in Everett, notably the 747-8, which would make room for the 777X.

Any other site would require time to set up tooling, train workers and deal with the distance between its current 777 operations and the 777X line.

"The door isn't shut on Washington," said Ken Herbert, an analyst at investment firm Canaccord Genuity in San Francisco.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in New York and Jonathan Kaminsky in Seattle; Editing by Bernard Orr and Matt Driskill)

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