Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RCI Cyberjournal


Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan handed down his provincial budget Tuesday--delivering a financial blueprint with no new tax cuts and only a smattering of strategic new programs as the province's governing Liberal Party prepares for an election in the fall. Mr. Duncan said his budget strikes the right balance between protecting health care and education and deficit reduction, and he warned that a Conservative government would have to lay off thousands of teachers, nurses and doctors to pay for a one per cent cut in the HST. The Conservatives have not actually promised the cut but haven't ruled out. The government already had announced some of the budget's key initiatives, including 60,000 new spaces at colleges and universities by 2015. There is also $15 million over three years to expand breast cancer screening and $93 million a year for a new mental health and addictions strategy, but not until 2013-14. There are new risk management programs for livestock and fruit and vegetable farmers. Mr. Duncan outlined belt-tightening measures aimed at finding $1.5 billion in savings over three years. They include the potential sale of ServiceOntario, the agency that delivers services like drivers' licences and health cards. The province also plans to cut 1,500 civil service jobs starting next year, shut down old jails and trim executive compensation packages among Crown corporations, hospitals and universities. Mr. Duncan said government belt-tightening helped push the deficit down to $16.7 billion dollars for fiscal 2010 -- and it will fall to 16.3 billion in fiscal 2011. But he said it would not be eliminated until 2017-18 despite urging from the big banks to get back in the black sooner.


Tuesday marked the fourth day of campaigning in Canada's May 2 general election and Prime Minister Harper moved quickly to disarm a controversy surrounding a Conservative Party campaign worker. Sebastien Togneri, a former Conservative staffer in Ottawa, is being probed by the RCMP and was fired for allegedly blocking the release of documents requested under Access to Information laws. Prior to Tuesday, he was working as a volunteer for Conservative candidate Ryan Hastman in Edmonton-Strathcona. Mr. Harper said Mr. Togneri is no longer working as part of that campaign. On policy matters, Mr. Harper announced that his party would establish a one-year Employment Insurance tax break for small businesses to hire new employees. Businesses would get a one-time credit of up to $1,000 dollars applied against their E-I premiums in 2011. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff unveiled his party's plank for post-secondary education. He said the $1 billion program would give every high-school student $1,000 a year for four years to go to university. For low-income families, the figure would be $1,500 The money would not have to be repaid. New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton called for a pull-back on interest rates that credit card companies can charge. Mr. Layton said banks shouldn't be allowed to charge more than five percentage points above the prime rate.


Saskatchewan's premier says he wants to stay neutral in the federal election. In the last vote in October of 2008, Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party supported the federal Conservatives, but this time around Mr. Wall says it will not align itself with any party. Mr. Wall says he liked the last federal budget of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, especially more funding for rural health care. But he says on some issues his government would like to be able to match up with federal programs regardless of who forms the government. He says he doesn't think there are any provincial issues that will be key to this federal election.


The federal government has restricted media interviews of officials in Afghanistan, saying it is doing so to prevent them from making public comments that could influence the election campaign. The restrictions became known after The Canadian Press news agency requested an interview this week with Tim Martin, who serves as the federal representative for Canada in Kandahar. The request was for a story about a transfer of command ceremony that took place Tuesday at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City. A spokesman for the Canadian International Development Agency rejected the request, saying Mr. Martin would not be granting interviews in the midst of the election. The order mirrors one that was implemented during the 2008 federal election.


The body of the first Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year will return home Wednesday afternoon. A military plane carrying the body of Cpl. Yannick Scherrer is due to arrive at CFB Trenton, Ont., at 2 p.m local time. The 24-year-old Montreal native was killed by a roadside bomb Sunday while on a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district. He was a member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, and on his first tour in the country. Scherrer was the first Canadian to die in Afghanistan since Dec. 18, when Cpl. Steve Martin was also killed by a roadside bomb. In all, 155 Canadian soldiers have been killed in the nine years since Canada joined the NATO-led force in that country.


Researchers say slight increases in radioactivity have been detected in seaweed and rainwater along Canada's West Coast. But the researchers--from Simon Fraser University--say there is no cause for alarm. The scientists found higher-than-normal levels of radioisotope iodine-131 along the coast. They say that does not mean any elevated risk of cancer. The researchers add that there's no need to be concerned about the long-term effects in seaweed, shellfish and rainwater because the radioactive material has a short shelf-life. Testing for the isotope began two weeks ago in response to public concern over radiation seeping from a leaking nuclear reactor in Japan. The researchers predict the radioisotope will continue to be detected until three to four weeks after Japanese officials stop the flow of radiation.


Foreign ministers from over three dozen countries, including Canada, met in London Tuesday to discuss a post-Moammar Gadhafi future for Libya. They agreed to set up a group to co-ordinate all international action on Libya. The British Foreign Office said the first meeting of the group will be in Qatar. Participating countries will take on a rotating chairmanship. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Arab League and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also attended the meeting. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton implored the world to speak with a single voice to tell Colonel Gadhafi to leave power.


President Barack Obama says the international military operation in Libya has saved many lives. In a speech to the nation on Monday night, Mr. Obama said it was necessary to prevent a campaign of killing by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He added a transition of command to NATO on Wednesday will reduce US military risk and taxpayer cost significantly. Canadian General Charles Bouchardwill command the NATO forces.


NATO on Tuesday delayed its takeover of all military operations in Libya by 24 hours to Thursday. The 28-nation military organisation, which includes Canada, agreed on Sunday to take command of the US-led campaign, and US President Barack Obama said the transfer would be completed on Wednesday.But diplomartsin Brussels said an extra day was needed for a smooth transition from US to NATO command. The delay is also necessary because contributions from some allies could depend on the outcome of an international conference on Libya taking place Tuesday in London. The NATO mission will be headed by Canadian General Charles Bouchard.


Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi have reportedly pushed back rebels in east Libya. The fighting occurred in Nofilia, located some 100 kilometres from the town of Sirte, Col. Gadhafi's hometown and the next major target of the rebels seeking to overthrow him. On Sunday, Canadian warplanes destroyed an ammunition depot near the city of Misrata. The military confirmed that four jet fighters hit a reinforced bunker with 225-kilogram, laser-guided bombs. Canada's military has also co-ordinated other coalition air raids over Libya involving as many as 20 warplanes.


Officials in Japan say they are "maximum alert" as they deal with the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. They also confirmed that highly toxic plutonium is leaking from the plant. Safety officials said the amounts are not a risk to humans but support suspicions that dangerously radioactive water is leaking from damaged fuel rods. Inside the plant, emergency crews are trying to balance two seemingly contradictory tasks: pumping in water to cool overheated fuel rods, while pumping out and safely storing water that's been contaminated. The plant has been emitting radiation exposures more than four times the amount that the government considers safe for workers. The Fukushima plant was damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, causing the nuclear crisis. The earthquake and tsunami has left about 28,000 people dead or missing and tens of thousands homeless.


Security forces stormed the provincial council building in former dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Tuesday after an hours-long shootout with gunmen that left 58 dead and 97 wounded. Three local council members were among the dead. Security officials said the gunmen, wearing military uniforms and suicide vests, swarmed into the provincial council building immediately after a suicide bomber detonated his payload and cleared the way. A car bomb exploded shortly afterwards as police reinforcements were arriving.Witnesses described a fierce shootout between at least eight gunmen and Iraqi security forces who surrounded the building. Tikrit is 130 kilometres north of Baghdad. It is the capital of the Sunni-majority Salaheddin province, which has long been a bastion of a Sunni insurgency and remains the scene of bloody attacks. In mid-January, a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed 50 people in a crowd waiting outside a police recruitment centre in Tikrit. That blast, which also wounded up to 150, was the first major strike in Iraq since the formation of a new government on Dec. 21.


The death toll from a powerful explosion on Monday at an ammunition plant near the town of Jaar in south Yemen has risen to 150. Officials said explosions and a huge fire engulfed the factory as villagers were inside helping themselves to remaining ammunition and guns left behind after a raid on the plant by suspected al-Qaeda fighters on Sunday. The blasts were triggered by explosive powder left behind by the militants. The incident, two months into a nation-wide revolt against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, came as a security official said suspected al-Qaeda militants had seized control of Jaar and surrounding villages.


Bahrain's parliament has formally accepted the resignations of 11 lawmakers from the Shiite opposition. State-run Bahrain News Agency said Tuesdaythe 40-member house on Tuesday approved the resignations of 11 Al Wefaq legislators. They and seven other Al Wefaq lawmakers submitted resignations last month over the deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters in the tiny island Gulf nation. BNA said parliament postponed deliberations on the six other resignations. Bahrain's parliament, the only elected body, holds limited authority. All the country's decisions -- including appointment of government ministers -- rest with the Sunni monarch. Bahrain has declared emergency rule and invited Saudi-led troops to help quell a month of Shiite-led protests demanding greater freedoms.


TheCabinet resigned Tuesday as the countrygrapples withthe worst unrest in decades. The resignation is the latest concession by the government aimed at appeasing more than two week of mass protests. President Bashar Mr. al-Assad is expected to address the nation by Wednesday to announce he is lifting the emergency law and moving to annul other harsh restrictions on civil liberties and political freedoms. The pro- democracy protests have left least 60 people dead.In Damascus on Tuesday,tens of thousands of Syrians held pro-government rallies.


Dozens of ultraconservative Muslims from the Salafi movement staged a protest in Cairo on Tuesday, accusing the local Christian church of abducting a Muslim convert. The protest was staged over the case of a Coptic priest's wife whom some believe converted to Islam and is being held against her will.The demonstration came amid signs of increasing assertiveness by the fundamentalist movement. On Monday, Salafis clashed with villagers in Fayoum province south of Cairo, over a local liquor store. According to a security official, one person was killed and eight others injured when villagers clashed with the Islamists trying to shut the store down.


An Israeli official said Tuesday Israel is considering annexing major West Bank settlement blocs if the Palestinians unilaterally seek world recognition of a state. The official said Israel can respond to unilateral Palestinian action with one-sided acts of its own. He said annexation of settlements is one option. Others could include restricting water supplies beyond agreed-upon amounts and restricting Palestinian use of Israeli ports for business purposes. The official said no final decisions had been made. Palestinian leaders plan on seeking international recognition of a state, with or without an agreement with Israel, at the United Nations in September.


A leading Hamas figure says he hopes Egypt's new rulers will have a different policy toward Gaza and permanently reopen a key border crossing. The remark came as a Hamas delegationwas visiting Cairo for the first time since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last month. The group's Gaza political leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said he expects a new "vision on dealing with the Rafah crossing" between Egypt and the coastal strip, run by the militant Hamas. Mr. Al-Zahar and another Hamas leader, Khalil al-Haya, held talks on Tuesday with Egypt's new Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby. Mr. Al-Zahar later told reporters they discussed problems the Gazans face from the crossing's closure. Mr. Mubarak co-operated with Israel and restricted traffic through Rafah.


Israel's parliament Tuesday passed a law that would allow the courts to cancel the citizenship of anyone convicted of spying, treason or helping the enemy during times of war. The bill was presented by two members from the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The law is part of Mr. Lieberman's no loyalty, no citizenship campaign which he pushed during the run up to the 2009 elections, which is widely understood to target Israel's Arab minority. Arab Israeli Members of Parliament said the new law was racist and was aimed solely at the country's Arab minority.


King Abdullah II on Tuesday condemned his country's unrest and urged the opposition to join a national dialogue on reforms. They were the first public remarks by the king since violence last Friday that saw one person killed and 120 wounded in clashes between competing protesters. It wasthe worst flare-up in three months of weekly pro-democracy gatherings. The king said he supports the freedom of expression but warned that he will not tolerate "vandalism and chaos." Abdullah condemned violence and said he did not fear reforms. He spoke Tuesday to a national dialogue committee drafting laws for greater public freedoms, part of an effort to ease tensions. The opposition accuses the government of ordering police to use excessive force to disperse last Friday's protest calling for reforms.


A Pakistani military commander said Tuesday friendly fire killed 13 troops caught up in a militant ambush close to the Afghan border. He said a mortar fell short during the fight in the Khyber region. The slain men included a colonel and a captain. Officials initially said 11 men were killed in the incident Monday. Pakistan's tribal regions close to the Afghan border are home to al-Qaeda and Taliban militants seeking to overthrow Afghanistan's US-allied government and establish a hard-line Islamic state.


There were unconfirmed Tuesday that the leader of the Islamist insurgency in the Northern Caucasus, Doku Umarov, may have been among the 17 militants killed in a special operation by the Russian security forces on Monday. However, Russian officials have repeatedly over the last years prematurely announced the death of Mr. Umarov, only to be proven wrong later. Mr. Umarov, whose Caucasus Emirate rebel group aims to enforce Islamic rule across the Northern Caucasus, claimed organising both the Moscow metro bombing one year ago and the suicide attack at Domodedovo airport in January. The Interfax news agency quoted security officials as saying that "according to preliminary information" Mr. Umarov was killed in Monday's special operation in Ingushetia, along with another militant leader, Aslan Byutukayev. Officials added that a full-scale identification has not been carried out. The operation Monday evening involved a highly unusual precision aerial strike on the base of the militants, and killed, among others, Supyan Abdylaev, a militant who always accompanies Mr. Umarov.


About 2,000 ethnic Albanians protested Tuesday against the European Union police mission is Kosovo, whose arrest of former rebels suspected of war crimes has sparked anger among the veterans of the 1998-99 Kosovo war. The protesters chanted "Down with Eulex," the name for the 2,000 strong EU mission, and carried banners supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army that fought to secede from Serbia. A former government minister was among 11 former rebels suspected of torturing and killing Serb captives and their ethnic Albanian collaborators. Nine are in jail. About 10,000 people -- mostly ethnic Albanians -- died in the war. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The EU police mission is in charge of prosecuting war crimes in the new nation.


Mexican police found the bodies of six men and one woman inside a car abandoned Monday in the city of Cuernavaca in Morelos state.They gave no other details. Violence has increased in the state since the Dec. 2009 death of drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva as groups began fighting for control. There have been an estimated 35,000 drug-related deaths during the past four years across Mexico.


A new outbreak of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, has left four dead in the past week in Mexico's state of Chihuahua. Health officials have started a vaccination campaign in Chihuahua and say the risk of a major outbreak will not occur. The World Health Organization says the virus has killed some 18,500 people globally since emerging in April 2009.


A Chilean court has ordered three guards from the San Miguel prison to be held on homicide charges for the deaths of 66 of the 81 inmates who died in a cellblock fire in December. In addition, five senior officers were charged with manslaughter and ordered to remain in the country, among them is the former prison director, Carlos Bustos Hoffman. An investigation found that the three guards failed to react in time to save the inmates of the north wing. Most of those killed were believed to have died from smoke inhalation as they were trapped in their cells.


TheClarin newspaper on Monday published an empty front page while it accused the government of encouraging union members to shut it down. Employment Minister Carlos Tomada said Tuesday it is just a union dispute that has nothing to do with freedom of the press. A small graphic artists' union got help from the powerful truckers' union in stopping deliveries of Sunday's Clarin. Deliveries of Argentina's other leading opposition newspaper, La Nacion, suffered long delays. Both papers deny having union disputes. The papers also say federal police ignored a judge's order to clear protesters from their entrances. On Monday, both newspapers devoted many pages to the issue with support from opposition politicians and the Inter-American Press Association.


Former US president Jimmy Carter met with religious leaders on Monday as he began a trip to discuss economic policies and ways to improve American-Cuban relations. Relations have been strained recently over the imprisonment in Cuba of US contractor Alan Gross. He was was arrested in December 2009 while working on a US AID democracy-building project. He said it was meant to help improve Cuban Internet access. Cuba says such US AID programs are aimed at overthrowing the government of President Raul Castro. Mr. Gross was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this month for crimes against the state for the illegal importation of telecommunications equipment into the country. Mr. Carter is expected to meet with Mr. Castro and other government officials before leaving Wednesday.


Beijing on Tuesday dismissed calls by a United Nations human rights agency to free prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, saying the body should respect China's judicial sovereignty. According to a statement released by advocacy group Freedom Now, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demanded China release Gao, alleging his incarceration breached numerous UN conventions and China's own law. Written in the form of a judicial opinion, the statement, which Freedom Now said was given to them on Monday also called on the China "to bring the practice in the matter of arrests, detention and trials in conformity with international law." But China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Tuesday maintained she was unaware of the "specifics" of the case. Gao was arrested in February 2009 and has been held incommunicado by the authorities. Geo briefly reappeared in March last year when he was apparently released by police, speaking with a few friends and colleagues, many of whom reported that he continued to be tailed by authorities and was in ill-health. Soon afterwards, he disappeared again and has not been heard from since. The UN statement said police and judicial authorities have refused to issue an arrest warrant, name the charges against Gao, publicly acknowledge he is in custody or tell his family why he has been detained. It also noted Gao was subject to torture and numerous beatings while in police custody before Feb. 2009.


In Toronto, the S&P/TSX composite index gained 37.62 points to 13,930.35. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 81.13 points to 12,279.01. The Nasdaq composite index was ahead 26.61 points at 2,756.89 Oil rose 81 cents to US$104.79 a barrel. The Canadian dollar settled at 102.60 cents US, up 0.20 of a cent. The US dollar stood at 97.47 cents Cdn, down 0.19 of a cent. Pound sterling closed at C$1.5605, down 0.17 of a cent and US$1.6010, up 0.14 of a cent. The euro was worth C$1.3752, down 0.11 of a cent.


Consumer confidence fell sharply in March as Canadians grew more worried about their finances. The Conference Board of Canada said Tuesdayconsumer confidence dropped to 83.7 from 89.3 in February. That level is lower than March 2010, but higher than six months ago. About a quarter of those surveyed said their finances had worsened in the last six months. And one in five said they expect their finances to worsen in the next six months. Ontario saw the largest drop in confidence, bringing it to the lowest level in the country.


Volkswagen said Tuesdayabout 19,500 Canadian Jettas are among the 71,000 vehicles being recalled across North America to fix problems related to the car's alarm system and horn. The recall to reconfigure faulty wiring affects sixth-generation Jetta sedans built between March 2010 and March 2011. No injuries or accidents have been reported. Of the Canadian cars being recalled, about 11,000 are currently in customer hands. Volkswagen says the other 8,500 have been built but are still in transit, either at the factory, en route to Canadian ports or are on dealer lots. The company says it has issued a stop-sale order for the additional vehicles and none will be sold to customers prior to having the necessary repairs completed.


Japan's Nikkei Index lost 19 points to close at 9,459. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index lost eight points to close at 23,060. On North American markets Monday, in Canada, the Toronto Stock Exchange lost 147-points to close at 13,893. The Canadian dollar gained more than 1/2 cent(0,54)U.S. to close at 102.40 while in the United States, the Dow Jones gained 15-points to close at 12, 235.


No Canadian-based teams played Monday.


Andre Hainault's second-half goal lead Canada to a 1-0 exhibition men's soccer win over Belarus on Tuesday in Antalya, Turkey. Hainault scored the game's lone goal in the 58th minute of a contest that saw the Canadians control a majority of the play. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan won his second cap for Canada after debuting in a 1-0 loss to Greece in February. Kevin McKenna captained the Canadians, ranked No. 84 in the world compared to No. 37 for Belarus. Hainault of Houston Dynamo and Will Johnson of Real Salt Lake were the only North American-based players in Canada's starting 11 as coach Stephen Hart elected to keep most of his MLS talent at home with their teams. Canada entered the match having won just one of its last nine games (1-6-2) since losing to the US in the semi-final of the 2009 Gold Cup.


Canadian Daniel Nestor his partner, Max Mirnyi of Belarus, the second seeds, moved to the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscane, Florida on Monday with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky Russia's Mikhail Youzhny.


In exhibition baseball play, Boston defeated Toronto 3-2 on Monday.


Vancouver has rain with a forecast high temperature of 11 degrees Celsius. Calgary is sunny with cloudy periods, a high of 10. Regina is sunny, a high of zero. Winnipeg is cloudy with a chance of flurries, a high of two. Toronto is mainly sunny, a high of seven. Ottawa and Montreal are sunny, highs of six. Fredericton is cloudy with sunny periods with a chance of flurries, a high of six. Charlottetown has increasing cloud with a chance of flurries, a high of two. Halifax has increasing cloud with a chance of showers, a high of six. St. John's is cloudy with a chance of evening showers or flurries, a high of two. Whitehorse is cloudy, a high of five. Yellowknife is cloudy with a chance of flurries, a high of four. Iqaluit has a mix of sun and cloud with a chance of flurries, a high of minus-15.