19Jan/15

Quiet Zambian lawyer Edgar Lungu addresses supporters

Zambian lawyer Edgar Lungu addresses his supporters ahead of the January 20 presidential by-election.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (JANUARY 19, 2014) (REUTERS) – Zambian lawyer Edgar Lungu addressed a large crowd of Patriotic Front (PF) supporters on Monday (January 19) ahead of the presidential by-election on Tuesday (January 20).

The premature election comes after the death of Michael Sata, leader and founder of the ruling Patriotic Front party, who died in office aged 77 in October.

Supporters believe Lungu is the right candidate to be the country’s president to pick-up where Sata left off.

“I believe in PF because Mr Michael Sata did very good work, so I believe Mr Lungu can continue with what Mr Sata believed,” said John Mwansa a Lungu supporter.

While Mary Sakala believes Lungu will make changes to help Zambian women.

“We know his group and we believe he can change some of the problems we face as women in Zambia. We believe in that. We’ve seen ever since they were voted into power, we saw some changes mainly in hospitals, and in some places there were no maternity wings,” said Salaka.

Lungu’s rapid rise from backroom politician to presidential front-runner in one of Africa’s most promising frontier markets has revealed tactical nous and a steely determination that few knew lay beneath his quiet exterior.

With another election due in 20 months when Sata’s first term would have ended, the winner will have little time to overturn a host of economic problems.

“The same way my boss (Michael Sata) loved you is how I will love you. The same way he suffered to take this country forward is how I will suffer for you,” added Lungu.

However, Zambia’s copper industry, the spluttering motor of one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, has been at the heart of campaigning for Tuesday’s presidential election and poses a big headache for the country’s next leader.

“We want living standards to be affordable so that each and every one of you is proud of being Zambian. We just don’t want to talk a lot and anyhow, we want to listen to you and work,” said Lungu.

Hit by plummeting metal prices, accusations of corruption and a hike in taxes, mining companies say production and jobs are at risk unless the new president steps in.

The 58-year-old lawyer, is seen as the favourite over Hakainde Hichilema, 52, a cattle herder-turned-economist whose United Party for National Development has been wooing the middle-class and investors.

The stakes are high for Mr Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front, which goes into the vote badly fractured by a bitter power struggle after Sata’s death in October, three years into his five-year term.

19Jan/15

Zambia’s main opposition party leader promises economic overhaul

Leader of Zambia’s main opposition party says he plans to overhaul the country’s economy by reviewing various mining deals that will create more jobs for the locals.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (JANUARY 18, 2014) (REUTERS) – Leader of Zambia’s main opposition party told his supporters on Sunday (January 18) that he would create more jobs and “support weak members of society” by overhauling the country’s economy.

Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), has so far contested and lost three Presidential election but is seen as a top contender in the January 20 polls to the ruling Patriotic Front’s candidate Edgar Lungu, who’s the Defence and Justice minister.

A successful businessman, Hichilema is seen as pro-business and the one likely to reverse Zambia’s recent image of an investor-hostile country, following a few takeovers of State entities such as Zambia Rails and ZAMTEL during the tenure of former president Michael Sata, who died in office in October aged 77.

“The 20 percent mineral royalty tax that has been imposed, it’s called mineral royalty, on certain mines, it constitutes what I define as a turnover tax, it doesn’t recognise the cost of production, and once you do a thing like that, you are going to kill mines. One mine, Lumwana, is already threatening to be closed, and if that happens, thousands of Zambians will to lose jobs and that’s unacceptable, because we already have high levels of unemployment. It’s like somebody who owns a dairy cow until blood comes out, and expects the milk the following day, it’s not possible,” said Hichilema from a rally in Lusaka.

“Our job as UPND and the reason why I am seeking public office, and I appeal, I’m making an appeal to all African leaders, our role as politicians of today, we should not seek professional politics. I’m not a professional politician, I don’t want to be a professional politician, I’m a missionary in politics. We want to create an attractive business and investment environment which will increase investment, support businesses to increase investments, grow our businesses, create the jobs, also ensure that we can generate fair tax revenue that we can use to support weak members of society,” he continued to say.

Hichilema was speaking at Lusaka’s Woodlands Stadium, where he addressed his supporters and urged them to vote in an election that had been created after Sata died in October in a London hospital.

Some supporters of said Hichilema could turn Zambia’s fortunes around, praising him for his business management skills and approach to politics.

“I am in support of President Hakainde Hichilema because I think at the moment he is the best candidate we have, so far, because of his policies and the team that surrounds him, unlike other candidates that are in the race,” said Mulasikwanda Masi, a Lusaka resident.

“He will improve health care. The other day I went to a local clinic and the services are very bad, a patient spends long hours in queue. HH (Hakainde Hichilema) will change all that,” echoed Christopher Mujika, a UNPD supporter.

According to the World Bank, Zambia’s poverty stands 70 percent, with many living below the poverty datum line of under $2 US dollars per day.

Zambia, which has enjoyed stability in its 50 years of self-rule endowed with numerous mineral and water resources and seen as one of the potential food basket for Southern Africa, is still grappling with high unemployment levels, corruption and a fragile democracy.

Hichilema condemns bad leadership and abuse of office by current and precious regimes for Zambia’s economic woes.

Recently, former President Rupiah Banda who was dislodged from office by the Patriotic Front and later blocked from contesting the election has thrown his weight behind the ruling party’s candidate Edgar Lungu, in a fashion many see is based on ethnic interests as both hail from one region.

But Neo Simutanyi, a Lusaka based political analyst, says the ruling party could lose the January 20 poll because of an increase in costs of living and its unfulfilled promises.

Simutanyi however says the ruling party would not go without a violent fight for power.

“The PF (Patriotic Front) are determined to win the election, want to win the election and will do everything to win the election, that makes it extremely important. It is important also in that it is the second time in the history of Zambia that we are using the constitution, abiding by the constitution to replace a head of state who has died, so it’s a test on whether we will be able to do so peacefully as was the case in 2008,” explained Simutanyi.

Eleven candidates are contesting in the poll, a situation Simutanyi sees as a sign of Zambia’s growing democracy, although he admits that the election would not be a free and fair one, given the level of abuse of state resources by the ruling party.

19Jan/15

Large asteroid to pass earth on January 26

A half-kilometer-long asteroid will fly past earth on Monday (January 26), approaching as close as 1.2 million km from the planet, about three times the distance from earth to the moon.

The asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, was discovered on January 30, 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project in New Mexico.

Monday’s fly-by will be the closest such a large asteroid has been to earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 passes earth in 2027. Asteroid 1999 AN10 is expected to pass the earth from an even closer distance of one lunar distance.

NASA scientists say that asteroid 2004 BL86 poses no threat to Earth, but hope NASA will be able to learn more about asteroids from this event because of asteroid 2004 BL86’s relatively large size and close proximity during the flyby.

The asteroid will be so bright and so close to earth on Monday night that even amateur astronomers with small telescopes or strong binoculars will be able to spot it.

NASA scientists will observe asteroid 2004 BL86 by directing microwave beams at the asteroid and collecting the radar pulses that bounce back off the target. Using the collected data, NASA scientists will be able to determine the make-up of the asteroid and how the asteroid was formed, as well as what the asteroid looks like.

It is likely that this will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to earth for at least the next 200 years. If asteroid 2004 BL86 were to hit earth, it would create a crater of approximately 10 km in diameter, causing global firestorms, acid rain and an enhanced greenhouse effect.

SOURCES:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA) News, The Guardian

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2015-015

ttp://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/asteroid-earth-january-space-rock-2004-bl86-planet-moon-nasa

***

17Jan/15

U.S. government studies show 2014 warmest year on record

(NVO) – 2014 was the warmest year on record.

That’s according to separate studies by U.S. space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They say the 10 warmest years ever on record have all taken place since 1997, and that the finding bolsters the argument that people are altering the Earth’s climate.

NASA Climate Scientist John Tucker.

NASA CLIMATE SCIENTIST AT GODDARD, JOHN TUCKER,

“What we all hope is that all of the observations which we collect will be interpreted by our leaders and they will realize that it’s important to have a constant climate on the planet. This is very important for our civilization and not to perturb it. And that’s what I hope happens.”

The scientists say the record temperatures were spread around the globe… from Europe to North Africa, from the western U.S. to far eastern Russia and elsewhere.

Scientists warn of grave consequences in this century if global temperatures keep rising.. rising ocean levels, deadly extreme weather, and droughts that can harm food production.

17Jan/15

Duke University reverses plan for bell tower Muslim call to prayer

Duke University cancels plans to allow the Muslim call to prayer to emanate from its chapel bell tower amid criticism from conservative Christians.

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES (JANUARY 16, 2015) (NBC) – Duke University scrapped plans on Thursday (January 16) to allow the Muslim call to prayer to emanate from its chapel bell tower, university officials said, amid fierce criticism from conservative Christians and anger from alumni.

Earlier in the week, university officials said the weekly chant by Muslim students, known as the adhan, would be amplified from Duke Chapel beginning on Friday.

“They apparently bent to pressure,” said Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the Muslim American Society.

A Muslim call to prayer was held at the university on Friday, but it did not come from the bell tower.

“We were presented with some significant and credible concerns about safety and security,” explained university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld of the decision.

In addition, the school received negative feedback from the university community, including alumni, he said.

Evangelist Franklin Graham was among those who protested the broadcasting of the Muslim call to prayer.

“My problem is using the chapel that was built to be a house of worship that worshiped Jesus Christ as the Son of God,” he said, after urging donors and alumni to boycott the university in a Facebook post.

Duke University has Methodist roots but is non-sectarian.

The Gothic-style Duke Chapel, one of the school’s best-known landmarks, is an interfaith locale where Hindu students, as well as groups from various Christian denominations, hold services.

Muslim students have held Friday services in the building’s basement for several years.

16Jan/15

Obama on the use of the word “Bro”

(NVO) – U.S. President Barack Obama offered some insight into the use of the word “bro” after the British Prime Minister told The Daily Mail, that Obama calls him, “bro”.

At a joint news conference with UK Prime Minister David cameron Obama explained, “As many of you know, David recently noted how comfortable the two of us are working together. This sent some commentators into a tizzy. Some explored the linguistic origins of the word ‘bro’. Others debated its definition. Several analyzed how this term has evolved over time. Some seemed confused and asked, ‘What does Obama mean?’, so let me put this speculation to rest, put simply David is a great friend , he is one of my closest and most trusted partners in the world.” He added, “Great Britain is our indispensable partner.”

Cameron, in turn, called Obama a great friend to Britain noting that the UK and US share the same values adding “and most of the time we speak the same language.”

For many years, the United States and Britain have shared a special relationship, but the comity between the nations’ leaders is so close that President Barack Obama often calls David Cameron “bro,” the British Prime Minister told The Daily Mail.

“The President has said the special relationship is stronger than it has ever been privately and in public and I agree,” Cameron said.

“Yes, he sometimes calls me ‘Bro,’” he acknowledged.

The revelation has elicited a rather in-depth discussion in Britain of the meaning of the term “bro” on radio and in print – and not all of it has been positive.

16Jan/15

Swiss franc surge hits emerging Europe bank sector

Debtors in Poland left with sky-rocketing loans after the Swiss central bank’s surprise move to let the franc surge, sending shock waves through the banking sector in central and eastern Europe.

WARSAW, POLAND (JANUARY 16, 2015) (REUTERS) – The Swiss central bank’s surprise move to let the franc surge sent shock waves through the banking sector in central and eastern Europe (CEE), where widespread mortgages denominated in francs suddenly became much harder to service.

Analysts said Poland looked especially exposed to the currency swing that could boost bad loans and poses a policy headache for governments watching citizens’ purchasing power dwindle.

FX-borrowers in Poland were left with loans that sometimes more than doubled in value.

“The property I own is worth 250 thousand zloty and the loan I have to pay off for now is (worth) 550 thousand zloty. I already paid back 100 thousand,” said Violetta Gorgol, who took out a loan in 2006, when the rate of the Swiss franc to the zloty was 2,6.

“The trap was in the fact that Swiss franc allowed you to take a higher loan than the zloty, because the credit rating was calculated in a different way,” she said, adding that her bank insisted on offering her a loan in the Swiss currency.

Another CEE country affected by the surge, Hungary, already got ahead of the curve last year by fixing exchange rates for many borrowers who had taken out mortgages in Swiss francs to capitalise on low interest rates, only to lose out when the franc surged during the financial crisis.

The banks that issued those loans had to pick up the bill for fixing the rates, but a Hungarian market source said they were safe too because they had already converted their Swiss francs into forints last year and closed their positions.

Similar ideas had circulated in Poland but were never formed into concrete legal proposals.

“By taking an FX loan, we agree to a certain risk. Those 560 thousand people have taken this risk, they agreed to it. They paid very low installments for a few years, later is wasn’t so bad either and now the worse times have arrived,” said real estate market analyst, Marcin Krason.

“It is not in the interest of the bank to dispossess the flat owner, take over the flat and auction it; this is not profitable for the bank. Banks do it very seldom, they prefer for the debtor to pay off the loan,” Krason added.

Analysts say it is impossible to assess the impact of the Swiss franc strengthening on banks at the moment, but shares in Polish banks led Warsaw bourse decliners immediately after the SNB move.

The chief executive of mBank, Cezary Stypulkowski, told reporters there is no reason to worry about Polish banks and that the situation would stabilise soon.

Several banking sources in Warsaw said that there may be pressure now on the government to introduce a relief scheme for borrowers of Swiss franc mortgages.

Opposition party MP Pawel Szalamacha said his party would like to introduce a similar scheme to the one introduced by Hungary, but the government has remained silent on the matter.

“The banking sector, the financiers would like nothing to happen, for people to pay back the loans with the exchange rate 4,2 or 4,5, for the financial sector to gain that higher profit, that rain of gold,” Szalamach told Reuters.

“Our proposal is to give to those people the possibility to repay the loan recalculated according to the exchange rate from January 14, 2015 – from the day before the so called earthquake, which was the decision of central bank of Switzerland,” he added.

Hardship for borrowers could turn into a political issue in a year when Poland is to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections.

In Austria, Swiss franc loans made up 96 percent of the 25.7 billion euros (19.73 billion pounds) in foreign-currency loans households held at the end of September, posing a problem for lenders like Erste, Raiffeisen and Bank Austria. Regulators banned the issue of such loans in 2008.

16Jan/15

Vatican briefing speaks about gay marriage following pope warning

Vatican spokesman speaks about the Catholic church’s position on gay marriage following Pope Francis’ warning against an “ideological colonisation of the family”, a reference to gay marriage around the world and to a heated debate in the Philippines about a government population control plan.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (JANUARY 16, 2015) (REUTERS) Pope Francis on Friday (January 16) warned against an “ideological colonisation of the family,” a reference to gay marriage around the world and to a heated debate in the Philippines about a government population control plan.

The pope made his impromptu comments at a rally for families in Manila on a day that began with an appeal to the government to tackle corruption and hear the cries of the poor suffering from “scandalous social inequalities” in Asia’s most Catholic country.

Speaking at a news conference in Manila later in the evening Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said:

“Well I think it is well known the perspective of the church on the family is that the family is based on the union of the marriage of a man and a woman. And a family is, for us, a union of a man and a woman, and children come from this union. This is for us the family. Then if there are persons who desire to have community in other ways, then they do, but this is not for us a family.”

Asked if the term “ideological colonisation” specifically referred to gay marriage, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, explained where he thought the term, used by the pope, had come from.

“In the synod of bishops last October, the extraordinary synod, there were some bishops and lay people especially from Africa, who said that foreign help or foreign aid extended to them often times is linked to some measures that the receiving country is somehow forced to accept. Some of those conditions for the aid seemed to be an acceptance or a welcoming of some views regarding marriage or sexuality which could be alien to the position held by the receiving country or culture.”

While the pope has said before that marriage must be between a man and a woman, his use of the phrase “ideological colonisation” appeared to be an appeal to developing countries not to follow the lead of nations where gay unions are already legal.

16Jan/15

Swiss central bank decision was completely seismic – Charles Stanley

Retail foreign exchange brokers from New Zealand to New York were nursing hefty losses from the Swiss National Bank’s shock move to abandon a cap on its currency. Charles Stanley Chief Economist Jeremy Batstone-Carr says the Swiss National Bank’s decision was completely seismic, the obvious winner here will be euro zone manufacturing and the obvious loser will be the Swiss exports sector.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (JANUARY 16, 2015) (REUTERS) – SLATE, READING: “SWISS EXPORTERS HIT BADLY BY YESTERDAY’S DECISION. WHO ELSE LIKELY TO SUFFER?”

CHARLES STANLEY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, JEREMY BATSTONE-CARR ,

“Hi there, yes I certainly agree that – well first of all the Swiss National Bank’s decision to uncap the Swiss franc was of course completely seismic, it hardly needs for me to say that. It is a micro-economic event, all currency moves are adjustment factors so therefore there will be winners and losers and the obvious winner will be euro zone manufacturing one imagines because the euro will weaken on the foreign exchanges and the obvious loser will be the Swiss exports sector. It is also fair to say that holders of Swiss denominated debt will also suffer of course because the Swiss National Bank cut the countries rate from -0.25 to -0.75 percent.”

SLATE, READING: “COPPER PRICES IN A ROUT – A BAD OMEN?”

CHARLES STANLEY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, JEREMY BATSTONE-CARR ,

“I think the copper price is certainly falling very sharply but you need to see the bigger picture here which pertains not just to copper but to the commodity complex more generally. And the point that I’d like to make is that if you step away from the day to day cut and thrust of financial market action what are bonds, what are commodity prices telling you about the outlook for the global economy? There is a major difference there from what equities are telling you which is by and large that everything is just about all right we are in a moderation, we are in a growth recession but we are not in a stagnation. If you look at bond pricing and if you look at commodity pricing I think you would have to argue the other way and the concern I have of course is that in relation to commodities other than oil this is not simply a question of weak or substantial supply, it is actually a question of weak demand and that I think does pose major challenges.”

SLATE, READING: “LATEST NEWS FROM RUSSIA IS OF BUDGET CUTS AND PRICES RISING AT EVEN FAST RATE THAN BEFORE. SHOULD RUSSIAN CONSUMERS BRACE FOR EVEN MORE BAD NEWS THIS YEAR?”

CHARLES STANLEY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, JEREMY BATSTONE-CARR ,

“Turning to the Russian economy our view is very much in line with consensus. That the economy is in a very very bad place at the moment and of course the plunge in the currency has made matters significantly worse. I think that Russian consumers are indeed going to have to brace themselves for a few very challenging months ahead. But of course the country, it could be argued is well versed in dealing with the economic crises and therefore I suspect that many in Russia will simply just accept this as part of the inevitability associated with the aggressive sanctions being imposed on the country by the west and of course in part the falling oil price which may also have something to do with the sanctions process.”