Rabu, 4 Disember 2013

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Temporary Thai truce on eve of king's birthday


BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's anti-government protesters and security forces on Wednesday observed a temporary truce as the nation prepared to mark the birthday of the revered king, after police stepped back in a dramatic move to calm violent clashes.

Demonstrators joined Bangkok authorities to clean up the area around Democracy Monument, where tens of thousands have camped out in more than a month of rallies against the embattled government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The area is a focus for the celebrations on Thursday for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej - a date normally observed in a spirit of calm and reverence for the ageing monarch.

Some debris has been cleared at battle-scarred areas around key government buildings which saw ugly clashes with police earlier in the week.

Several days of street battles in the Thai capital abruptly paused Tuesday as protesters gave police flowers after security forces said they would no longer use force against demonstrators trying to storm Yingluck's offices as well as the city police headquarters.

The unexpected about-turn in tactics followed two days of violent clashes between stone-throwing mobs and police firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

Protest leaders say they have not abandoned their campaign to overthrow Yingluck's administration and curb the political influence of her billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.

Despite the apparent respite, groups of marchers began Wednesday to arrive at the headquarters of the national police in Bangkok's glitzy downtown shopping district, although the rally there was expected to be brief and peaceful.

Authorities were not worried about the gathering, said Paradorn Pattanatabut, head of Thailand's National Security Council.

"Their movement today is merely to display their power and show that the protests are still continuing," he added.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch, is treated as a near-deity by many in Thailand and any violence on his birthday would be viewed as a serious sign of disrespect.

The elderly king has suffered from a range of ailments in recent years. In August, he left the Bangkok hospital where he had lived for several years and moved to his coastal palace in the seaside town of Hua Hin with Queen Sirikit.

At the main rally site, protesters began to sweep up rubbish in preparation for the royal festivities.
"We're helping to clean up for the King as it is nearly his birthday," said Palita Nutchoei, 37, wielding a wooden broom at Democracy Monument.

But "we will keep protesting because we feel that we haven't won yet", she added.
Thailand's long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based elite backed by the military and the palace against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin, a billionaire businessman turned populist politician

The demonstrations, aimed at toppling Yingluck's government and replacing it with an unelected "people's council", are the biggest and most violent since dozens of people were killed in a crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin rallies in Bangkok three years ago.

The rallies were triggered by an amnesty bill, since abandoned by the ruling party, which opponents feared would have allowed Thaksin to return to his home country. He fled in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction he contends is politically motivated.

Four people have been killed and about 250 wounded in the street violence since Saturday.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier, late Tuesday said the fight to unseat the government was not over.

"After the king's birthday, we will start fighting again until we achieve our goal," he told AFP explaining that victory would only be secured when "Thailand is rid of the Thaksin regime".

Shopping giant Westfield to split mall empire


SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian shopping centre giant Westfield Group on Tuesday announced plans to split its international and Australian assets in a reshaping of its global empire which it said would unlock more value for investors.

Under the restructure, its Australian and New Zealand businesses - with interests in 47 malls - will be merged with those of Westfield Retail Trust, which was spun off from the main company in 2010.

The resulting US$26 billion entity will be named Scentre and listed on the Australian stock market, with a development pipeline for projects worth some US$3 billion.

Westfield Group will be renamed Westfield Corporation with total assets of $US17.6 billion, comprising interests in 44 shopping centres in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Westfield Group chairman Frank Lowy said the company's international and local businesses had both grown in scale and quality to the stage where they could now stand on their own.

"They can each operate more efficiently, and generate greater growth and value for investors, by being independent," he said.

"The proposal represents the latest in a series of capital restructures that have maintained the success of Westfield since it was first listed in 1960."

"Our current structure has served us well, but we believe that this new structure will create more value for investors going forward."

Lowy will be chairman of both entities with Scentre expected to list in mid-2014.

Westfield is one of the world's largest shopping centre operators and Lowy said a purely international focus for the new Westfield Corp would allow it to be more easily compared with international peers.

WTO in ‘make-or-break’ move


NUSA DUA: The WTO launched a frantic drive to salvage its floundering efforts to liberalise global trade at a summit laced with potential make-or-break implications for the body's global influence.

WTO chief Roberto Azevedo implored trade ministers to reach a modest agreement on key trade issues on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, in hopes it will keep alive a stumbling 12-year-old effort to slash international trade barriers.

"It is there for the taking. It is a matter of political will," Azevedo said during an appearance ahead of the four-day summit's opening yesterday.

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Azevedo called the 159-member group's gathering "the most important World Trade Organisation meeting in years".

"At stake is not only a package of measures to boost the global economy ... but also the role of the WTO and the multilateral trading system in global economic governance," he said in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

In 2001, the WTO launched the "Doha Round" of talks in Qatar, seeking to overhaul the world trading system by setting a global framework of rules and tearing down barriers.

Various estimates say it could create tens of millions of jobs and perhaps US$1tril (RM3.2tril) in new economic activity.

But protectionist disputes between rich and poor countries – as well as the WTO's insistence that any accord be unanimous – has made a deal elusive.

Retreating for now from Doha's lofty aims, the WTO has instead put forward a limited "Bali package" on specific issues.

Azevedo hopes an agreement on that package can keep the Doha Round on life-support for a later push.

But the Bali measures have hit snags, most notably India's insistence that it be allowed to offer subsidies to its millions of poor farmers to keep food prices down. — AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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