Saturday, February 11, 2012

RCI Cyberjournal

PM wants trade with, rights for China
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada wants to sell more oil to China but won't shy away from raising the issue of human rights as economic ties between the two strengthen. Mr. Harper said Canada has "abundant supplies of virtually every form of energy" and will sell to whoever wants to buy. The prime minister says Canada wants to diversify its energy sales away from the United States, a major theme of his visit to energy-hungry China. But he added that "in relations between China and Canada, you should expect us to continue to raise issues of fundamental freedoms and human rights." The remarks to a business group in the southern Chinese city of

Guangzhou were his first public comments on human rights since he arrived in China on Tuesday. There were no senior Chinese officials

in attendance. Mr. Harper is heading a 40-strong delegation of Canadian business leaders that have signed $3 billion in deals this week.

Engineering firm fires execs in Libya mystery
Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin said late Thursday it has fired two executives loosely linked to a failed plot to smuggle a son of ex-Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi into Mexico. The two became the focus of reports after Mexican officials announced charges in an elaborate plan to bring 38-year-old Saadi Kadhafi and other relatives into Mexico on false papers last year at the height of pro-democracy protests in Libya. SNC-Lavalin, which oversaw billions of dollars worth of projects in Libya including the construction of a prison, says that Riadh Ben Aissa, executive vice-president of the firm's construction arm, and vice-president in charge of finances Stéphane Roy, were "no longer in the employ of the company, effective immediately." It added "that all employees must comply with our code of ethics and business conduct." Mr. Roy had been placed at the scene of the arrest in November in Mexico City of accused conspirator Gabriela Davila Huerta.

He was invited to Mexico to meet with Cynthia Vanier, a Canadian also charged for her alleged role in the plot, to discuss "the possibility of water treatment projects." The company says Mr. Roy "was asked the purpose of his visit by the authorities" in Mexico, but was not charged.

SNC-Lavalin had previously hired Vanier for "a fact-finding mission in early summer 2011 in order to establish the situation in Libya with the intent of resuming operations there."

Canadian trade surplus doubles
Canada's trade surplus for December grew to $2.7 billion, more than double the previous month and its best showing since the global financial crisis three years ago. Statistics Canada said Friday that merchandise exports rose 4.5 per cent in December and imports edged up 0.8 per cent, pushing the country's trade surplus with the rest of the world up from $1.2 billion in November. Both U.S. exports and imports posted their highest levels since October 2008 as the trade surplus with Canada's largest trading partner grew to $5.5 billion in December from $4.7 billion in November.

Pensions changes won't be immediate
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is setting out broad markers for when changes to Old Age Security take effect, and they likely won't kick in for years. The finance minister's statement at an event in Oshawa, ON. was the first indication of how the government intends to proceed with its controversial reductions to elderly benefits. Mr. Flaherty says the changes were not for tomorrow, but for something like 2020 or 2025.

A spokesman said later the comment should be read as an indication changes wouldn't occur immediately and not as firm timelines.

The minister says he intends give middle-aged Canadians plenty of time to plan for their retirement under the new rules. Ottawa has been undergoing daily attacks in the House of Commons about the issue since the prime minister's comments last month when he signalled he wanted to slow the growth of OAS costs.

Public broadcaster awaits news on cuts
The head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. says he's anxious to find out just how much of his budget is about to be slashed. Hubert Lacroix says he's wondering whether the looming cuts will keep the CBC from fulfilling the objectives set out in its latest strategic review. In a speech to the Montreal Board of Trade Friday, the CBC president also said he doesn't know how many jobs will have to be eliminated. The comments come as the Harper government prepares deep spending reductions in its upcoming budget, with departments preparing for clawbacks of five to 10 per cent. CBC/Radio-Canada receives $1.1 billion a year. The Crown

corporation already cut $171 million from its budget two years ago and eliminated 800 jobs at the time. Mr. Lacroix says Canadian broadcasting, even the private sector, couldn't survive without government support.


Fighting erupts in Damascus
Witnesses and activists have told the Reuters news agency that a firefight broke out on Friday in a poor district of Damascus between loyalist forces and rebels battling against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, the nearest fighting to the centre of the capital in an 11-month uprising. Members of the Free Syrian Army fought for four hours with troops backed by armoured vehicles who had entered al-Qaboun

neighbourhood in the north of the capital during a protest one mile from the main Abbaside Square. The rebels said they had sustained several casualties but it was not known if any had died of their wounds.

Russian space expert sentenced as spy
A Russian space engineer received a 13-year jail sentence Friday on charges of passing secret strategic missile data to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in return for cash. Russia's FSB security service said test engineer Vladimir Nesterets from the northern Plesetsk cosmodrome admitted receiving payments for information about "tests on Russia's latest strategic missile systems." The security service refused to specify the types of systems involved in the case or the size of the payments. The military is currently developing a new generation of missiles and warheads that Moscow hopes will soon replace an ageing Soviet-era arsenal that was developed at great expense at the height of the Cold War. The powerful weapons are meant to penetrate the various defences designed by Washington and remain instrumental to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's promise of overseeing a military resurgence if elected to a third term as president in March.

Another Chinese dissident sentenced
A Chinese court has sentenced a dissident writer to seven years in prison over a poem he wrote urging his countrymen to gather at a public square, a human rights group said Friday. The hefty sentence comes ahead of next week's visit to the U.S. by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, widely expected to be China's next leader, where he is likely to face questions on human rights. The U.S. government on Friday voiced deep concern over Zhu Yufu's reported sentencing and the recent convictions of three other dissidents who have received nine- and 10-year prison terms for subversion or inciting subversion over the last few months. A court in Hangzhou city sentenced Mr. Zhu on Friday. He is among a group of writers and intellectuals targeted by Chinese authorities in a crackdown aimed at preventing Arab Spring-style popular uprisings.

Rio police strike ahead of Carnaval
Police in Rio de Janeiro went on strike late Thursday over a call for better wages a week ahead of the popular Carnival event that is expected to attract millions of revelers. Union leaders for the police force rejected a deal approved by Rio's state legislature that had hoped to head off the strike with a 39 percent increase in pay for police, firefighters and prison guards. The move added to already high tension for Brazil's security forces after more than 200 military police ended a strike earlier in the day in Salvador, capital of Bahia state in Brazil's northeast. The strike in Bahia unleashed a massive crime wave in which more than 120 people were murdered in and around Salvador, Brazil's third largest city, in just nine days. That's more than twice the usual homicide rate.

Hamas leader visits Iran
Iran's official media report that the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, arrived in Tehran on Friday on a three-day trip and is due to speak at a rally marking the 33 anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution on Saturday. The media say the Palestinian will meet with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other high ranking Iranian political and security officials. Mr. Haniya will receive an honorary degree from Tehran University. Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is to give a speech on Saturday to mark the day 33 years ago when revolutionaries claimed victory over the deposed regime of the U.S.-backed shah, has strongly backed the Palestinian cause. He has voiced Iran's longstanding policy of rejecting the continued existence of Israel and of supporting foes of the Jewish state, including Hamas. The Islamist group this week signed a deal with its rival, Fatah, which runs the West Bank under Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, to form a consensus government ruling both Palestinian territories.

Protesters demand ouster of Egypt's military chiefs
Thousands rallied outside Egypt's defence ministry on Friday demanding the military rulers' ouster on the eve of a planned civil disobedience campaign marking Hosni Mubarak's overthrow a year ago. During the day, several groups of protesters converged near the ministry building, as the security forces blocked off access with barbed wire and tanks. Military music blared out from behind the barrier, while the activists chanted slogans such as: "The people want the execution of the Field Marshal" Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council since Mubarak's ouster. The protesters plan new marches on the ministry on Saturday as a prelude to strikes and sit-ins marking the anniversary. In another development, the Egyptian government says armed Bedouin kidnapped three South Korean tourists and their Egyptian guide in the Sinai Peninsula in the latest in a spate of abductions. The three were headed to the historic monastery of St Catherine when they were seized, the official said on condition of anonymity. Their kidnappers are demanding the release of fellow tribesmen held by the authorities, the official added.

Greeks again take to the streets
Greece's future in the euro grew increasingly precarious Friday as violence erupted on the streets of Athens during a general strike and five politicians resigned from the government after European leaders demanded deeper spending cuts. Hours after Greece claimed it had reached an agreement among its squabbling party leaders on new cutbacks, European officials dashed any hopes that the country was close to getting its bailout. Finance ministers said more austerity needs to be agreed and set a deadline for the middle of next week. If Greece's government fails to meet Europe's demands, the debt-ridden country faces a chaotic debt default next month that would send shockwaves around the world economy and could doom a generation of Greeks to even deeper hardship. If it does deliver those demands, Europe has committed to give it a $172-billion that would at least postpone Greece's day of reckoning.

Mexican army rescues Central American migrants
Mexico's defence ministry says the Mexican army has rescued 73 kidnapped Central American migrants, including 18 minors, from buildings in the country's northeast near the crime-ridden US border. It said forces were tipped off to the presence of the kidnapped migrants in the Tamaulipas state two days ago and launched a "coordinated, simultaneous and surprising" rescue operation on Thursday in which four people were arrested. It declined to provide further information on the kidnappers or the nationality of the migrants. In 2010 authorities discovered the bodies of 72 migrants from Central and South America in Tamaulipas, who appeared to have been killed after refusing to work for the feared Zetas drug cartel. The Mexican government estimates that some 140,000 migrants, mainly from Central America, cross into the country en route to the United States every year, though non-governmental groups put the figure as high as 400,000.

Venezuelan opposition holds unprecedented primary
Venezuela's united opposition holds a first presidential primary Sunday to pick its standard bearer to take on incumbent President Hugo Chavez in the October ballot. The open primary, the first of its kind in the country, will gauge the momentum of support for the opposition Democratic Unity coalition eight months before a showdown with Mr. Chavez, the left-wing leader in power since 1999. Henrique

Capriles, a 39-year-old moderate state governor from the center-left Justice First party, currently leads in the polls. He governs Miranda state, which includes parts of the Caracas metropolitan area.


Union irate over heavy machinery plant closing
The head of the Canadian Auto Workers union is accusing Caterpillar Inc. of not following the rules in its 2010 takeover of a London, ON, locomotive plant it has decided to shut down. CAW national president Ken Lewenza has written a letter to Industry Minister Christian Paradis, calling on him to release the financial details of Caterpillar's takeover of Electro-Motive Canada. The federal government has said that the takeover was never looked at by Investment Canada because it fell under the $300-million threshold. But Mr. Lewenza says no public, independently verifiable data supports that claim and Caterpillar's own financial statement reported US$1.3 billion in assets associated with the takeover. The American-based heavy equipment maker announced last week that it will close its Electro-Motive plant in London, Ont., a month after it locked out about 450 workers. Mr. Lewenza says if the data associated with Caterpillar's purchase of Electro-Motive turns out to be inaccurate, the government can impose penalties, and even annul the acquisition.

Markets
Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday: 12,389 - 109. Canadian dollar: US.99. Euro: $1.32. Oil: $98.87 - .90.


Sports
HOCKEY

In the National Hockey League, former Toronto Maple Leafs Mats Sundin is donating more than $300,000 to establish a scientific exchange program between the University of Toronto and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. The money will support two fellowships at the labs where scientists are probing how maternal health and early life experiences determine a child's future. The announcement was made Friday at the University of Toronto. Sundin is scheduled to have his No. 13 jersey honoured before the Leafs' home game Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens. He played 13 seasons with Toronto. In 18 NHL seasons, the Swede had 564 goals and 785 assists in 1346 games.

TENNIS

For the first time in eight years, Canada will appear in the World Group portion of the Davis Cup. The Canadians open their series against France in Vancouver. Vasek Pospisil takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga while Milos Raonic meets Julien Benneteau.

SKATING

Canadian Patrick Chan stumbled but still won the men's short program at the Four Continents figure skating championship. The Toronto native failed to land his first jump cleanly, touching both hands to the ice. Chan is the defending world men's singles champion.

SKIING

Steve Podborski was named named the Canadian team's

chef de mission for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on

Friday.

The former downhill skier competed in two Olympic Games and won

bronze in downhill in 1980.

Podborski was the first North American man to win the overall

World Cup downhill title in 1982.


Weather
British Columbia on Friday: rain south, snow north, high C9 Vancouver. Yukon, Nunavut: snow. Northwest Territories: sun. Whitehorse -3, Yellowknife -12, Iqaluit -23. Prairies: sun. Edmonton -5, Regina -12, Winnipeg -11. Ontario: snow south, mix sun cloud north. Quebec: mix sun cloud. Toronto -8, Ottawa -11, Montreal -12. Maritimes: snow. Newfoundland and Labrador: rain. Fredericton 0, Halifax, Charlottetown, St. John's 2.