- Earthquake measuring 6 magnitude strikes Taiwan - USGS
- U.S. House passes funding bill, Obama reaches out to Senate
- Mourning Venezuelans parade Chavez's coffin, prepare for vote
Posted: 06 Mar 2013 08:03 PM PST
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An earthquake measuring 6 magnitude struck northern Taiwan on Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The quake, which was put at 10 km (six miles) deep, hit 39 km north-northwest of the port of Hualien, the USGS said.
(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Ed Davies)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 06 Mar 2013 07:39 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday to avert another partisan budget battle and a possible government shutdown, and a dinner meeting between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans offered signs of a thaw in relations.
By a vote of 267-151, the House passed a measure to fund government programs until the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to pass a similar bill next week.
Without such legislation, federal agencies would run out of money on March 27.
The bill to continue funding the government without last-minute drama occurred as Obama took the unusual step of inviting Republican senators to a dinner on Wednesday night at a Washington hotel a few blocks from the White House that lasted about an hour and a half.
Attendees emerged optimistic about the prospects for the elusive big deal to put the nation's finances on a more sustainable track in a way that satisfies both Democrats and Republicans.
"It was a really good conversation," Republican Senator John Hoeven said.
"It was candid," he told Reuters in an interview. "We really talked about how do we get to a big agreement in terms of the debt and deficit."
An administration official told Reuters before the dinner that Obama had been hoping to take advantage of a lull in a series of budget crises to launch a dialogue with Republican lawmakers with the goal of reaching a broad deficit reduction deal.
While the meal was not intended to be a negotiation, it was an opportunity for Obama to make clear he is willing to consider some difficult spending cuts that are unpopular with his fellow Democrats in Congress, the official said.
Those could include cuts to programs that include the Social Security pension system and Medicare for the elderly.
Obama is due to discuss his other legislative priorities, including immigration reform, gun control and tackling climate change, at meetings with members of both political parties on Capitol Hill next week.
The dinner may have been a chance to reverse some of the angry partisan rhetoric that has stood in the way of compromise in recent weeks.
"The president greatly enjoyed the dinner and had a good exchange of ideas with the senators," a senior administration official told reporters.
Asked how the soiree had gone, Senator John McCain told journalists outside the hotel, "Just great. Fantastic."
Attendees included Senators Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, and Kelly Ayotte and nine others. Graham drew up the guest list, the White House said.
The meetings between the president and lawmakers, whether or not they produce results, depart from what has been an at best a stand-offish relationship between Obama and Republicans in Congress.
They suggest that Obama and Republicans are getting the message that public patience with Washington is wearing thin. This has become apparent as Americans read of inconveniences they may soon confront at airports and elsewhere as a result of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that kicked in on Friday after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on an alternative.
"This is the first indication in really a long time that the president is willing to exert leadership and bring people together and that's exactly what needs to be done," said Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who has spoken by phone in recent days with Obama.
At the heart of the bitter U.S. budget dispute are deep differences over how to rein in growth of the $16.7 trillion (11.13 trillion pounds) federal debt. Obama wants to narrow the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes. Republicans do not want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" at the New Year.
Despite the scheduled dinners and meetings and the vote on funding the government, few expect those differences to be resolved any time soon.
Some Republicans remain sceptical of Obama's overtures. "This president has been exceptional in his lack of consultation and outreach to Congress," said John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican.
Cornyn, like Collins, was not invited to dinner with Obama, but he warned that talk of tax increases would be unwelcome. "I don't know if the purpose of the meeting is social or if he has an agenda. But if it is about raising taxes, we're done."
While Republicans have taken most of the beating in surveys in connection with the so-called sequestration, a Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Wednesday showed 43 percent of people approve of Obama's handling of his job, down 7 percentage points from February 19.
Confounding the White House's efforts to blame Republicans for the spending cuts, most respondents in the online survey hold both Democrats and Republicans responsible.
As recently as last month, Republicans were threatening to use the bill to fund the government, called a "continuing resolution," to extract spending cuts from the White House.
Instead, the bill they fashioned, which passed on Wednesday, embraced the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that were triggered last Friday, while providing some additional spending flexibility to the military and other security operations.
Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said his party would like to shift the cuts to other areas of the budget, noting that there are 20,000 military employees in his Oklahoma district.
"We'll sit down and renegotiate where they should come from," Cole said in the debate on the House floor. "We think we've got some great ideas, but they (the cuts) are going to occur. They're the first and appropriate step for getting our fiscal house back in order."
Many Democrats in the Republican-controlled House voted against the funding bill because it would not give the Obama administration flexibility in carrying out the new, automatic spending cuts for domestic programs such as education. Last month, Democrats had sought to replace about half of the automatic cuts with tax increases on the rich.
"This bill falls short in a number of areas, but most of all because it does nothing to prevent the loss of 750,000 jobs that will result because of the sequester," said Representative Chris Van Hollen, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Susan Heavey, Thomas Ferraro and Rachelle Younglai.; Editing by Fred Barbash, David Brunnstrom and Eric Walsh)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 06 Mar 2013 07:05 PM PST
CARACAS (Reuters) - Sobbing and shouting, a throng of Hugo Chavez's supporters paraded his coffin through the streets of Caracas on Wednesday in an emotional outpouring that could help his deputy win an election to keep his socialist revolution alive.
Hundreds of thousands of "Chavistas" marched behind a hearse carrying the body of the flamboyant and outspoken president, draped in Venezuela's blue, red and yellow national flag.
Avenues resounded with chants honouring the former paratrooper as supporters showered flowers on his coffin and jostled to touch it. Loudspeakers played recordings of the charismatic socialist giving speeches and singing.
Some supporters held heart-shaped placards that read: "I love Chavez!" Others cheered from rooftops, waving T-shirts.
Ending one of Latin America's most remarkable populist rules, Chavez died on Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer that was first detected in his pelvis.
His body was taken to a military academy to lie in state at the tip of a grand esplanade until his state funeral on Friday. Late into the night, a sombre procession of thousands filed past the glass-topped coffin.
Soldiers saluted from behind a red rope and members of the public sobbed. Some were pushed through in wheelchairs. With a touch of the elbow and a quiet word, security men kept the line moving as top members of the government looked on.
The future of Chavez's socialist policies, which won him the admiration of poor Venezuelans but infuriated opponents who denounced him as a dictator, now rests on the shoulders of acting President Nicolas Maduro, the man he tapped to succeed him.
"We ask our people to channel this pain into peace," Maduro said.
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, will face Henrique Capriles, the centrist governor of Miranda state, in an election due within weeks in the OPEC nation with the world's largest oil reserves.
Opposition parties and Capriles have agreed he will make another bid for the presidency, sources said on Wednesday.
He lost to Chavez in last year's election but had a respectable 44 percent of the vote, the best performance by any candidate against Chavez in a presidential contest.
One recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead over the 40-year-old Capriles. Maduro, who wore a track-suit top in the colours of the Venezuelan flag and hugged mourners as he stood by Chavez's coffin, will likely benefit from the surge of emotion.
Authorities said the vote would be called within 30 days, as stipulated by the constitution, but did not specify when.
The tall, moustachioed Maduro has long been a close ally of Chavez. He pledges to continue his legacy and it is unlikely he would make major policy changes.
He will now focus on rallying support from Chavez's diverse coalition, which ranges from leftist ideologues to business leaders who have contracts with the state, and armed groups known as "colectivos."
Some have suggested Maduro might try to ease tensions with foreign companies and the U.S. government. Yet hours before Chavez's death, Maduro accused "imperialist" enemies of infecting the president with cancer and expelled two U.S. diplomats accused of conspiring with domestic opponents.
Venezuela's military commanders pledged loyalty to Maduro, who will be caretaker leader until the election, and soldiers fired 21-gun salutes to Chavez in barracks across the nation.
A victory by Capriles, a centrist politician who says Venezuela should follow Brazil's softer centre-left model, would be welcome by investors and bring big changes - although he has called for calm and respect for many people's sense of loss.
"Don't be scared. Don't be anxious. Between us all, we are going to guarantee the peace this beloved country deserves," Capriles said in a condolence message.
Venezuelan debt prices fell on Wednesday as investors locked in gains chalked up in anticipation of Chavez's death, citing short-term political uncertainty.
The stakes are also huge for leftist Latin American allies like Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia that for years have relied on Chavez for economic aid.
But leaders of other countries in the region - mainly free-traders like Peru, Chile, Colombia, Panama and Mexico - periodically rejected his overtures, criticized his statist policies and, for Washington, served as a buffer against him.
It was not immediately clear where Chavez would be buried.
He had ordered a striking mausoleum built in downtown Caracas for the remains of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, his inspiration, and it is due to be finished soon. Some allies said he should be buried there.
Despite the tumult around the coffin procession, much of Caracas was quiet on Wednesday. There were long lines outside gasoline stations.
A stony-faced Bolivian President Evo Morales joined Maduro at the front of the procession. The presidents of Argentina and Uruguay joined them for a vigil by the coffin. Other regional leaders are expected to attend his funeral.
"This has hit me very hard, I'm still in shock," said Leny Bolivar, a 39-year-old Education Ministry worker, her eyes red from crying. "We must keep fighting; he showed us the way."
Condolences flooded in from around the world - ranging from the Vatican and the United Nations to allies like Iran and Cuba.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mourned Chavez's death as a great loss, extolling his opposition to the "war on Syria."
OBAMA REACHES OUT
U.S. President Barack Obama was less effusive about a man who put his country at loggerheads with Washington, saying his administration was interested in "developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."
In a potentially conciliatory gesture, the United States, a major oil client of Venezuela, is expected to send a delegation to the funeral.
Opponents at home hoped for a fresh start.
"Chavez was very dominant and used the powers of state in a very discretional way, as though this was his own estate," Juan Vendrell, a 58-year-old engineer, said in a wealthy neighbourhood of Caracas. "I would like a change and for institutions and democracy to be restored."
Chavez led Venezuela for 14 years and won a new six-year term in last October's election.
His folksy charisma, anti-U.S. diatribes and oil-financed projects to improve life for residents of long-neglected slums created an unusually powerful bond with many poor Venezuelans.
That emotional connection underpinned his rule, but critics saw his autocratic style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of rivals as hallmarks of a dictator whose policies squandered a historic bonanza of oil revenues.
The nationalizations and strict currency controls under Chavez frightened off investors. Even some of his followers complained that he focused too much on ideological issues at the expense of day-to-day problems such as power cuts, high inflation, food shortages and violent crime.
Chavez's health declined sharply just after his re-election on October 7, possibly because of his decision to campaign for a third term instead of stepping aside to focus on his recovery.
The government declared seven days of mourning.
(With reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel, Deisy Buitrago, Marianna Parraga, Ana Isabel Martinez and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Terry Wade, Kieran Murray and Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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