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World stocks retreat on Greek default fear Stocks plunged and the euro fell on Monday as signs of German impatience with Greek debt woes and fears over French banks compounded worries that the world is set for another recession, analysts said. Wall Street fell less sharply than the steep drops in Europe. Tokyo struck its lowest close in 29 months after the G7 group of rich nations admitted that current economic problems were so complex that a unified response was impossible. French banking shares dived more than 10 per cent on concerns that Moody’s credit rating agency might downgrade their ratings because of the amount of Greek debt bonds they hold. “The political theatre playing out in Europe continues to drive investors towards the exits with policymakers adopting an increasingly tough line with respect to Greece as bailout fatigue in northern Europe starts to manifest itself alongside austerity fatigue in southern Europe,” Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in London said. At close in Europe, Paris’ CAC 40 index of leading shares fell 4.03 per cent to 2,854.81 points. In Frankfurt, the DAX slid 2.27 per cent to 5,072.33 points and in London the FTSE-100 index dropped 1.63 per cent to 5,129.62 points. Elsewhere in Europe Milan dropped 3.89 per cent, Madrid 3.41 per cent, Lisbon 4.2 per cent and Brussels 3.06 per cent. The euro slid to 103.90 yen — the lowest level since 2001. It later pulled back to 105.32 yen, which compared with 105.91 yen on Friday. On Wall Street in early afternoon trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 0.66 per cent to 10,990.01 points, the broader S&P 500 fell 0.61 per cent to 1153.50 points, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was flat at up 0.08 per cent to 2442.86 points. Lee Hardman, currency economist at The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ said the intensifying sell-off in both the euro and risk assets in general reflected “heightened investor fear that Greece is on the verge of defaulting which could plunge the weak global economy back into another Lehman-esque recession.” “Hopes for coordinated action from the G7 finance ministers over the weekend to restore confidence to financial system predictably fell short of expectations.” Europe’s single currency dropped as low as $US1.3495 – the lowest point since February – before recovering to $US1.3648 almost unchanged from $US1.3649 on Friday. “Given how sharply it has dropped, the euro could easily experience a short squeeze over the next few days and respond positively to any news events that don’t suggest an imminent crisis. However, we doubt that a sustained rebound is in the cards over the next few weeks,” analysts Greg Anderson and Valentin Marinov at CitiFX said. The flight to safety drove down the yields on 10-year bonds issued by Germany and the United States to historic low levels. Borrowing prices fell for France as well. At ING Debt Strategy, analyst Alessandro Giansanti also noted the shock to sentiment of the announcement on Friday that the chief economist at the European Central Bank, Juergen Stark would step down early. Giansanti, noting this was rumoured to be because of “personal disappointment with the ECB purchasing of Italian and Spanish bonds,” said it had sparked heavy selling of bonds issued by eurozone countries in trouble. Bank watchers suggested his exit showed the ECB was deeply split over its approach to handling the sovereign debt crisis. Greece announced on Sunday 2 billion euros ($A2.62 billion) in budget cuts demanded by the EU and the IMF to unlock more funds under its 110-billion euro rescue package to avoid a default. EU Economy Commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed the move, but European finance ministers are split over how to deal with obstacles holding up a second 160-billion-euro bailout for Greece, agreed in principle in July. With Athens having difficulty meeting its commitments to receive further rescue funding, on Saturday, Der Spiegel magazine reported that the German government was preparing two contingency plans in the event of a Greek default. “What would never have been contemplated a few months ago is now being openly discussed, as talk gathers pace of Germany looking towards a plan B to recapitalise and protect its banks in the event of a Greek default,” analyst Hewson said. The Tokyo stock market tumbled 2.31 per cent on Monday to close at its lowest level for almost two-and-a-half years, with exporters again feeling the most pain as the euro sank against the yen.

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Battles as Greece cuts deep Lawmakers voted 155 to 138 for the hotly-disputed package to slash 28. 4 billion euros ($40 billion) from the balance of government spending by 2015, a plan aimed at unlocking emergency finance from the EU and the IMF. An estimated 500 to 600 hardcore youths hurled missiles, according to police, who responded with volleys of tear gas that blanketed Syntagma Square in front of the parliament and reached high floors in surrounding buildings. Security forces drove protesters further away from the parliament, but a blaze broke out at the finance ministry on the far side of the square amid early evening running battles. “We’re going to carry on the protest until the government falls, and it will fall,” said student Thanas, 22, told AFP. “It’s chaos here, we’ll stay whatever happens though, we’re going to fight to take back the square,” added 22-year-old law student Debbi. EU BACKS DEAL European Union leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the parliamentary endorsement for the austerity measures, despite the fact a second vote on the detail behind the measures has still to be held on Thursday. The euro firmed and Greek stocks again rose as EU president Herman Van Rompuy applauded a “vote of national responsibility.” The yes vote was “the only way to buy time and start the great changes this country needs,” Papandreou said, pledging to do “everything to avoid the collapse of this country,” and prevent default on its 350-billion-euro debt. The plan is a condition for 12 billion euros of emergency loans needed by mid-July from stressed eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund, that could now be unlocked by eurozone finance ministers as early as their next meeting on Sunday. Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker urged another yes vote on Thursday “in these grave and crucial times for Greece” as MPs started their debate on the “implementation” of radical reforms. Five lawmakers voted ‘present’ — a political statement indicating they could back the second vote if the majority gets squeezed. “We have taken a big step,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told the Athens News Agency. “Tomorrow we will take the second so that I can go on Sunday to see my Eurogroup partners with real proof of the country’s credibility.” REBEL EXPELLED Papandreou’s only rebel was blind MP Panayotis Kouroublis, who was immediately expelled from the party. Governing party lawmaker Alexandros Athanassiadis, who had said he would vote against the package but then didn’t, was attacked early evening by jeering demonstrators who threw water bottles at him, police said. The aim in privatising a dozen utilities and other public assets is to raise 50 billion euros by 2015, but the sale of the state’s majority holding in the national electricity company is a particularly divisive element in the detail. The Health Ministry said around 100 demonstrators and 31 officers had received hospital treatment for breathing troubles and wounds to the head, though no one had been seriously wounded. Police said they had made 11 arrests. Amid rioters’ accusations of police provocation, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told parliament he would look into the situation but slammed the violence against the post office and banks as “appalling.” Protesters erected makeshift barriers on the square, hurling firecrackers, rocks and metal barriers at security forces, before more tear gas sent them scuttling down metro steps, those without masks struggling to breathe or see. “Everyone in the streets at the moment is really angry, and some are scared, you don’t know what’s going to happen” joiner John Papadopis, 35, told AFP on the square. On the second day of a 48-hour general strike, many protesters had said they expected the cocktail of taxes, spending cuts and sell-offs deemed essential for wider eurozone stability to pass — but that they would be back. “Too many of these protesters are just out for fun,” bartender Helene told AFP. “They don’t have jobs so they come here at night for a party.” The general strike brought about power cuts and ground transport in the capital to a halt. Once the July cashflow needs are met, a second bailout expected to be worth a similar amount to last year’s 110-billion-euro rescue can be thrashed out. The main sticking point involves how much banks and other private creditors will contribute by way of a ‘rollover’ of existing debts.

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Bangladesh floods displace 120,000 Floods in southwest Bangladesh have inundated vast swathes of farmland, affecting nearly a million people, many of whom are stranded on embankments with no food or shelter, officials said today. Heavy monsoon rains in recent days have caused at least five rivers to burst their banks, flooding more than 1,000 square kilometres (400 square miles) of farmland in the remote Satkhira district. “Nearly a million people have been affected by floods in Satkhira. Among them, 120,000 people have been displaced,” district administrator M. Abdus Samad said. The government has stepped up relief efforts in the area, Samad said, adding that those who have lost their homes are staying in a network of 284 temporary relief centres and are receiving emergency rations. More than 1,500 tonnes of rice and a large quantity of high-energy biscuits have been distributed by government workers to the displaced families, he said. The World Food Programme (WFP) is also providing emergency food assistance to 57,000 people affected by floods in Satkhira, the agency said in a statement. “A vast number of ultra-poor people are stranded on embankments, with no access to food and shelter,” said Michael Dunford, the acting WFP Country Director. Bangladesh is criss-crossed by more than 200 rivers and is regularly hit by floods during the monsoon season, spanning from June through September. The country receives some 80 percent of its annual rainfall during the monsoon, when heavy rain water gushes from two Himalayan rivers — the Ganges and the Brahmaputra — causing many local rivers to breach their banks. Last month, 21 people were killed and 400,000 were marooned in flash floods and landslides in southeastern Bangladesh. In 2007, during the most recent episode of severe flooding, nearly 1,100 were killed and more than 2.5 million were displaced.

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Greek ministers approve new austerity The Greek Cabinet has approved a new round of painful austerity measures and a 50 billion euros ($A68. 71 billion) privatisation drive that are essential for the debt-ridden country to continue receiving funds from its international bailout. Greece is lagging behind with reforms promised in return for last year’s 110 billion euros ($A151.16 billion) package of rescue loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. Fellow eurozone governments have warned that if the country does not enforce new austerity, it will be cut off from aid. Without the next 12 billion euros ($A16.49 billion) installment from its rescue loans due in July, Greece, which remains stuck in recession and locked out of international bond markets, will default on its massive debts. Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said the plans were submitted to Parliament shortly after their approval. “The medium term framework includes interventions to achieve a deficit of 7.5 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) in 2011, and broader interventions to reduce the deficit below three per cent of GDP by 2014, and around one per cent for 2015,” he said. “It also advances the broader privatisation program.” No specific date has been set for a vote, but Cabinet officials said they expected it to be held before June 28. The governing Socialists hold a six-seat majority in the 300-member legislature, but many party backbenchers have strongly criticised the new austerity plan – which follows a series of pension and salary cuts last year, accompanied by increases in taxes and retirement ages. However, none of the disgruntled Socialist lawmakers have openly threatened to vote against the measures. Once the package is approved, the government will table supplementary legislation on its precise implementation. Officials say both pieces of legislation must be ratified before Greece can receive the next installment of the EU and IMF loans. The new plans include a remedial 6.4 billion euros ($A8.79 billion) package of cuts and tax hikes for this year, a renewed 22 billion euros ($A30.23 billion) austerity drive for 2012/15 and the privatisation program. Officials said all Greeks earning more than 8,000-10,000 euro annually will be charged an extra tax worth up to three per cent of their income every year for the next four years, while the sales tax on restaurants and bars will increase to 23 per cent from the current 13 per cent. Civil servants and pensioners will suffer more income cuts, while health, education, defence and social spending will be further curtailed. “We have sought and we have found the fairest possible solution” in the new austerity cuts, Prime Minister George Papandreou said, according to another Cabinet official who was reading from a text of the premier’s remarks. Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels on June 20 and EU leaders gathering on June 23-24 are to discuss Greece’s situation. “We expect the Greek parliament to approve the measures put forward by the Greek authorities in the last review of the troika, so that the euro area finance ministers can take this into account when they decide on the next disbursement,” Amadeu Altafaj-Tardio, a spokesman for the EU’s Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, said in Brussels shortly before the Cabinet approval. The pressure on Papandreou and his government is greater than ever, with the country’s international creditors calling for cross-party support for the bailout program and openly criticising the slow pace of reforms. “After a strong start in the summer 2010, reform implementation came to a standstill in recent quarters,” the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund wrote in a summary of their recent assessment of Greece’s efforts. The Associated Press obtained a copy on Thursday. The three institutions, known as the troika, also cited “political risks” to the implementation of the budget cuts and privatisation program in their findings, which were circulated among eurozone finance ministers Wednesday. Those “doubts on the ability and the willingness of the Greek government and society to persevere in fiscal consolidation, and in restoring competitiveness” are the main reason Greece likely won’t be able to access financial markets again next year, leading to serious financing gaps, the troika concluded. In the first quarter, Greece’s GDP shrank 5.5 per cent from a year earlier, the national statistical agency said Thursday. The troika now expects Greece’s economy to shrink by 3.8 per cent in 2011, worse even than the 3.5 per cent recession the EU predicted only in May. Without the additional measures this year, Greece’s budget deficit would remain above 10 per cent of economic output, the troika said, way off the 7.5 per cent target set out in the program. The Finance Ministry said the measures would bring the national debt down to 139.5 per cent of GDP by 2015, as opposed to a suffocating projected 198.9 per cent if no measures were taken. In addition to the recession, the crisis has led to significant job losses, with unemployment in March reaching 16.2 per cent, the highest since monthly data began to be released in 2004. The protracted pain, with little prospect of respite visible on the horizon, has prompted a series of strikes and protests. Workers at Greek state-run companies walked off the job Thursday to protest the government’s privatisation plan, which they fear will lead to further job and salary cuts. Under the slogan “we won’t sell,” they marched through central Athens. Public transport workers walked off the job in the early morning and late evening, while port workers, post offices and banks called a 24-hour strike. Television station technicians were also on strike, as were journalists at the state-run broadcaster, disrupting live news programing. A general strike has been called for June 15. Angry Greeks have taken over the central Syntagma Square, setting up a tent city in a sit-in. Tens of thousands of people thronged the square, which lies in front of Parliament, last Sunday.

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Q&A: The causes of the Somalia famine While it is true that droughts are an act of nature, there is nothing “natural” about the resulting famine in Somalia, an expert told SBS. Dr Tanya Lyons is a Senior Lecturer at the School of International Studies at Flinders University in Adeialde, SA. She is also the editor of the Australasian Review of African Studies. SBS asked her to explain the causes of the Somalia famine. “The biggest cause of the Somalia famine is the failure of the state to protect its citizens. Twenty years ago we saw a famine unfold and we saw a failure of the international community to intervene effectively to protect these vulnerable people who didn’t have a government to look after them. Their competing plans, factions and war lords were all competing with each other, competing for scarce resources and they are unable to effectively provide any services or support for the people in that country. A lot of people fled Somalia then. A lot of people became refugees in other countries. So, do the roots of this famine go a long way back in history? It could be argued that it all stems from the colonial days with Britain and Italy forming protectorates in those areas. Back in 1960, they got their independence but with the country continually being affected by droughts, these continually turned into famines because they didn’t have systems and processes in place to protect the security of their people. In the last 20 years, after the disastrous US-led intervention, and after they withdrew from the country in the early 1990s, having completely failed in their tasks of setting a secure state and enabling the vulnerable people in being given food, it has been a constant cycle of intervention where humanitarian aid and food relief have been brought in only at the will of local war lords or clans that still have this kind of authority at the end of the rifle to let the food come to the people. So it is only at the will of war lords that the people can get hold of food relief if they need it. The whole country is dependent on this foreign humanitarian aid and it’s just that cycle of dependence. What role did Al Shabab play in creating this crisis? Of course thrown into the mix is the Al Shabab terrorist organisation, which has connections with al Qaeda, and the US played a role in trying to get rid of them and have some power over the country. Now there is an interim western-backed government in place but unfortunately they don’t hold authority over the country, nor any legitimacy. Al Shabab has been competing to get power to install Islamic law across the country. The US has been using that political situation in trying to install a pro-democracy government, so they don’t want humanitarian aid to go to support terrorist groups. So they haven’t been providing that humanitarian aid in the lead up to the drought and to prevent the famine. A lot of shipments of food aid will get into the system and will go in the hands of terrorist organisations and they will use it in the same way that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe used food aid a couple of years ago to gain the support of the people in rural areas. They will use aid make it look like they are the one helping the people in need to get the votes and the support of the local communities. There are also foreign economic interests in Somalia — for example four major US oil companies are operating there. I would say Somalia is the most complex country in the world. The reason it’s so important is the Gulf of Aden and the US has been trying at least to put a pro-democracy government and make it work because they need to get in and pass through the Gulf of Aden unaffected by the pirates. It is no surprise to me that there is oil interest in that region and it’s the same in Sudan as well and I am sure that that would be another reason why Americans are so interested in getting a government that can talk to and work with and get rid of the power of Al Shabab who are more likely to do business with competing countries like China or other countries that are also interested in the oil on the ground or in the ocean off Somalia. This is a typical scenario in the African continent since independence in the 1960s. Was this crisis brought about also by corruption? I think it’s more the weakness and failure of a state rather than straightforward corruption. There’s certainly corruption in the sense that well meaning humanitarian aid that is given to the country would be redeployed to support troops or insurgent troops in that region. To that extent it’s difficult for the international community to feel confident that they can make a difference to these vulnerable people suffering. Plus, there is always the issue that the local communities may distrust or not trust aid workers thinking they may be spied working for foreign government and they may be targeted. Because there is that lack or trust in the international community. And it’s only recently that Al Shabab made an agreement with the World Food Program to allow food to come in to help people in the communities that they have control over to access some of this food aid, realising that it may win them favours rather than getting aid workers to leave.

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Default utility Image World stocks retreat on Greek default fear

Stocks plunged and the euro fell on Monday as signs of German impatience with Greek...

Default utility Image Battles as Greece cuts deep

Lawmakers voted 155 to 138 for the hotly-disputed package to slash 28.

Default utility Image Bangladesh floods displace 120,000

Floods in southwest Bangladesh have inundated vast swathes of farmland, affecting nearly a million people,...

Default utility Image Greek ministers approve new austerity

The Greek Cabinet has approved a new round of painful austerity measures and a...

Default utility Image Q&A: The causes of the Somalia famine

While it is true that droughts are an act of nature, there is nothing ...

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Default utility Image World stocks retreat on Greek default fear

Stocks plunged and the euro fell on Monday as signs of German impatience with Greek...

Default utility Image Battles as Greece cuts deep

Lawmakers voted 155 to 138 for the hotly-disputed package to slash 28.

Default utility Image Bangladesh floods displace 120,000

Floods in southwest Bangladesh have inundated vast swathes of farmland, affecting nearly a million people,...

Default utility Image Greek ministers approve new austerity

The Greek Cabinet has approved a new round of painful austerity measures and a...

Default utility Image Q&A: The causes of the Somalia famine

While it is true that droughts are an act of nature, there is nothing ...

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