Jumaat, 8 November 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Typhoon Haiyan kills at least 100, flattens Philippine city


MANILA (Reuters) - Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the strongest storm ever to hit land, has devastated the central Philippine city of Tacloban, killing at least 100 people and destroying most houses in a surge of flood water and high winds, officials said on Saturday.

The toll of death and damage is expected to rise sharply as rescue workers and soldiers reach areas cut off by the massive storm, now barrelling out of the Philippines towards Vietnam.

The category 5 storm weakened after hitting six spots in the Philippines and has been downgraded to category 4, though forecasters said it could strengthen again over the South China Sea on its course to hit Vietnam on Sunday.

The Philippines has yet to resume communications with officials in Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 that suffered the worst of the typhoon, but a senior official estimated at least 100 dead.

"Bodies are lying on the street," said Captain John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, citing a 5 a.m. message from a station manager who only makes contact every four hours to conserve battery power.

The national disaster agency has yet to confirm the toll.

Before communications were cut on Friday, city officials had reported heavy flooding. Mobile phone networks, power lines and trees were toppled and most roads were cut off.

"Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing, but with partial damage," said Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency, adding that severed communication links made it hard to fix casualties.

About a million people took shelter in 37 provinces after President Benigno Aquino appealed to those in the typhoon's path to leave vulnerable areas.

Meteorologists said the impact may not have been as strong as feared because the storm was moving so quickly, reducing the risk of flooding and landslides from torrential rain, the biggest causes of typhoon casualties in the Philippines.

Ferry services and airports in the central Philippines remained closed, hampering aid deliveries to Tacloban, although the military said two C-130 transport planes managed to land at its airport on Saturday.

Andrews said the airport terminal was destroyed by the typhoon, which also blew off the roof of the airport tower in Roxas City in Capiz province to the west.

At least two more people had been killed on the tourist destination of Cebu island, radio reports said.

The typhoon was hovering 440 km west of San Jose, in southwestern Occidental Mindoro province, packing winds of a maximum 175 kph, with gusts of up to 210 kph.

The storm lashed the islands of Leyte and Samar with 275-kph wind gusts and 5-6 metre (15-19 ft) waves on Friday before scouring the northern tip of Cebu province.

It weakened slightly as it moved west-northwest near the tourist island of Boracay, later hitting Mindoro island.

Haiyan was the second Category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year after Typhoon Usagi in September. An average of 20 typhoons strike every year, and Haiyan was the 24th in 2013.

Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns in southern Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage of more than $1 billion.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato and Karen Lema; Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Clarence Fernandez)

China's leaders open key meeting to set reform agenda


BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese leaders began a four-day secret meeting on Saturday to set a reform agenda for the next decade as they try to steer the giant economy towards more sustainable growth after three decades of breakneck expansion.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang must unleash new growth drivers as the world's second-largest economy loses steam, burdened by industrial overcapacity, piles of debt and soaring house prices.

The meeting will show just how committed the new leadership is to reform after formally taking power in March.

Economic reforms will dominate the meeting of the 205-member Central Committee of China's ruling Communist Party. Little if any news will be released during the secret gathering, although traditionally official news agency Xinhua releases a long dispatch on the last day.

State television's English-language news channel said the meeting had begun. It gave no other details.

Beijing has tightened security in the run-up to the meeting, and authorities have been more jittery than usual after a vehicle ploughed into a crowd last week on the northern end of Tiananmen Square, an event the government blamed on Islamist extremists.

While some social and political issues could be tackled, such as corruption and pollution, Western-style political reform is certainly not on the agenda.

Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth-ranked member in the elite Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party, said last month the meeting would deliver "unprecedented" economic and societal reforms.

Analysts have cautioned against high expectations as stability remains the watchword for the leadership, even amid media reports top policymakers could take bold steps to deal with entrenched vested interests, such as state monopolies.

The government has pledged to allow market forces to play a bigger role in setting the price of capital, energy and land, and to cut red-tape.

That suggests the biggest changes may be fresh measures to free up interest rates and fiscal changes to allow local governments to manage their debt better and move away from reliance on land sales for revenues.

The meeting may also decide to loosen the household registration system, which blocks migrant workers and their families from access to education and social welfare beyond their home villages.

The system is seen as an impediment to attracting more people to urban areas, a trend the government seeks to encourage to boost consumption.

The leaders may also push land reforms to allow farmers to sell land when they leave their villages. Currently, they cannot sell land freely and many do not leave their farms for fear local governments could grab them for development.

Historically, third plenums in China have served as a springboard for key economic reforms. New leaderships usually spend the first few months in office getting familiar with issues, building consensus before unveiling policy initiatives.

Former leader Deng Xiaoping launched historic reforms to open the economy to the outside world at a third plenum in 1978.

That was followed by a third plenum in 1993 that endorsed the "socialist" market economy, paving the way for sweeping reforms spearheaded by then Premier Zhu Rongji, which led to China's entry into the World Trade Organization.

But the third plenum, in 2003, under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao - predecessors of Xi and Li - failed to yield key reforms. In 2008, they unveiled a 4 trillion yuan ($656 billion) stimulus package, which fuelled a property frenzy and saddled local governments with debt of more than 10 trillion yuan that the economy is still trying to absorb today.

(Editing by Neil Fullick and Clarence Fernandez)

Obama says U.S. needs to update policies on Cuba


MIAMI (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday that it may be time for the United States to revise its policies toward Cuba, against which it has had an embargo for more than half a century.

"We have to be creative and we have to be thoughtful and we have to continue to update our policies," he said at a fundraising event in the Miami area.

"Keep in mind that when Castro came to power I was just born, so the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet, Google and world travel doesn't make sense," he added, referring to Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution.

Incremental changes in U.S. Cuba policy have allowed greater communication with people on the island and the transfer of remittances, Obama said.

"But I think we all understand that ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today," he told a small audience at the home of Jorge Mas, a telecommunications equipment executive. "But the United States can help."

A younger generation of U.S. politicians and Americans of Cuban ancestry are likely more open to finding "new mechanisms" to bring about change on the island, he said.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba is controversial internationally and the United Nations in October voted for the 22nd time to condemn it. Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said the fact that the embargo has been in place for more than half a century is "barbaric."

Obama said before taking office that he wanted to recast long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations, but his efforts have been a disappointment to the Cuban government, which hoped he would do more to dismantle the embargo.

U.S. diplomats have said that while the United States welcomes some of the recent changes in Cuba, the country still has one of the most restrictive economic systems in the world.

Even so, the two countries have made small advances toward one another. Diplomats sat down in September to discuss re-establishing direct mail between the United States and Cuba, which has been suspended since 1963.

Obama restarted the talks, along with discussions of immigration issues, in 2009. However the negotiations broke off after Cuba arrested U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years for his role in setting up an underground Internet network.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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