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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Oil spills blacken Vietnam beaches

VIETNAM'S Prime Minister has ordered an international investigation into mysterious oil spills that have blackened some of the country's most popular beaches after ruling out the country's oil rigs.

“We have run thorough checks using vessels and aircrafts on our seas and found that our oil wells are safely operated and are not the culprit of the oil spills,” Nguyen Tan Dung told delegates at the National Assembly.

Dung was referring to two spills that occurred this year, one in January that hit beaches in the central part of the country and the second detected on March 11 along the southern coast.
State oil monopoly Petrovietnam president Dinh La Thang said tests showed the oil in the spill was crude oil from outside Vietnam.

Petrovietnam produces around 350,000 barrels of crude oil per day, most of it from rigs off the central coast and exported to refineries and power plants in Japan, South Korea, China, Australia and Singapore.

“The Foreign Affairs Ministry has been designated as the lead agency along with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and other agencies to work with other countries in the region and in the world to find out the solution and limit the damages to our country's environment,” Mr Dung said.

The National Committee for Search and Rescue said residents had so far collected nearly 1500 tonnes from the two mysterious spills. The oil had affected popular Danang beach and all 125km of Quang Nam province's coastline, including Hoi An, a UNESCO heritage site.

Officials from Danang said waters have been clear for several weeks now.

The second oil spill in the south has affected shrimp and mussel farms along coast. Read more!

Russia to start WTO talks with Vietnam April 1, Cambodia April 4

MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will start bilateral talks on joining the World Trade Organization with Vietnam April 1, and with Cambodia April 4, Russia's chief WTO negotiator said Thursday.

"We will start talks with Vietnam in Hanoi Sunday, and talks with Cambodia in Pnompenh will be held April 4-5," Maksim Medvedkov, the director of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's trade talks department, told a Moscow press conference.

Russia had not planned to hold bilateral talks with Vietnam, but in late 2006 Vietnam became a full-fledged WTO member and voiced its intention to hold talks with Russia.

Medvedkov said Russia had proposed to Vietnam and Cambodia that talks only cover the export products these countries have an interest in, because, he said, this will speed up the negotiating process.

Medvedkov said Monday Russia could complete accession talks in the summer or in late 2007.
"There are two scenarios," he said. "Under the first, talks will be completed by the summer, under the other, by the end of the year. But in any event, talks will be completed in a matter of months."

Moscow has signed bilateral protocols with all but four WTO members and is yet to complete multilateral talks with its trade partners within the global trade body.

Vietnam joined the WTO last year and requested talks with Russia in March, an economics ministry official said Monday.

"Russia has already sent its proposals on mutual access to commodity and services markets," the ministry said.

Moscow is also to hold negotiations with Cambodia - a new WTO member that requested talks in January - to resolve a dispute with its former Soviet ally Georgia, which withdrew from the bilateral WTO agreement after Moscow banned key Georgian exports last March, and to sign a protocol with Guatemala.

Medvedkov, who held a regular round of accession talks in Geneva in early March, said the 58-member Working Party on Russia's accession would gather no earlier than April.

Medvedkov said about 20 issues were still to be resolved during the talks. The main sticking points include state agricultural subsidies, which Russia plans to raise from the current $3.5 billion to $9.5 billion, and efforts to bring national legislation in compliance with international standards.

In November, Russia secured a long-desired bilateral agreement with the United States, removing the largest obstacle to its WTO membership. Access for foreign companies to Russia's insurance and banking sectors, and wide-spread piracy were among the main stumbling blocks in bilateral WTO talks.

Russia agreed it would allow up to 100% foreign ownership of its banks and investment companies when it joins the WTO, and that it will let foreigners enter its insurance market after a transition period. Until then, foreign insurance companies will be able to operate in Russia through subsidiaries, with foreign investment in the sectors to be limited to 50%.

Medvedkov also said Russia has linked a strategic partnership agreement with the European Union to its accession to the WTO.

"This is one of the reasons why Russia does not want to delay joining the WTO," he told journalists.

A Russian official said March 2 that a new partnership agreement between the EU and Russia will only be signed in three to four years, when the EU defines its priorities in relation with Russia.

The talks on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to replace the current one, which expires in late 2007, were set to begin at the Russia-EU summit in Helsinki in November, but Poland vetoed the talks over Moscow's ban on meat imports from the EU newcomer.

The head of the Russian Foreign and Defense Policy Council presidium, Sergei Karaganov, told a news conference in Moscow that the delay in starting the talks came about not only because Poland vetoed them, but also because EU countries have not yet decided on the nature of their long-term cooperation with Russia. Read more!

Cambodia, Laos to take part in central Vietnam heritage festival


The third edition of the biennial festival will showcase cultural heritage sites and traditional cultures of the three Indochinese countries – Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Cambodia will be represented by Siem Reap province, and Laos by Luang Prabang city and Champasak province.

The highlights will include the night festivals Wat Phou-My Son-Angkor and Hoi An-Luang Prabang, a show on Indochinese culture, a food festival featuring specialties from the region, and a seminar on the Indochina cultural heritage road.

Visitors will be taken on excursions to traditional craft villages in the historic town of Hoi An and Dien Ban and Duy Xuyen districts.

Themed Indochina Culture and Tourism Week, the four-day festival will open June 27 in Hoi An and conclude on Cham Island off the old town.

Vietnam boasts five UNESCO-listed world heritage sites, two of which – Hoi An town and the ancient Hindu sanctuary of My Son – are in Quang Nam province.

The others are the former imperial city of Hue, Phong Nha cave in Quang Binh province, and Ha Long Bay.

The Heritage Itinerary Festival has been held since 2003 to promote tourism in the central province.
Read more!

China's Ministry of Supervision delegation wraps up visit to Cambodia

The six-member delegation of Chinese Ministry of Supervision concluded Friday its five-day goodwill visit to Cambodia.

During the stay, the delegation paid a visit to Say Chhum, Secretary General of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), on Friday and held a meeting with Men Sam On, Cambodian Minister of Relations with Parliament and Inspection, on Tuesday.

During the meetings, Xia Zanzhong, delegation head and deputy secretary to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC), said that China and Cambodia are good friends and partners of mutual trust.

The Chinese-Cambodian ties will enjoy a long-term development in the new century, he said.
The current visit will promote both sides' inspection agencies to deepen their mutual understanding, expand their cooperation and enhance their friendship, he added. .

Both Say Chhum and Men Sam On highly remarked the great achievements scored by CPC and the Chinese government in the course of reform, opening up, promoting harmonized development of the society and the economy.

They expressed the intention to further strengthen and deepen the exchange and cooperation between both sides, including those in the fields of anti-corruption and inspection, and pledged to push the bilateral ties up to a new height.

Source: Xinhua . Read more!

Thai PM: No State of Emergency Needed


By AMBIKA AHUJA


BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - Imposing a state of emergency in Bangkok is unnecessary, Thailand's military-installed prime minister said Thursday, turning down a request by coup leaders who wanted to use the decree to silence opponents.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont also hinted for the first time at possible dates for a general election in December and a referendum on the new constitution currently being written.

Surayud told a news conference he expressed to coup leaders his opinion that the current situation in the Thai capital "does not correspond with the need to declare a state of emergency, and does not affect national security."

However, Surayud said authorities had not ruled out imposing emergency rule, but would continue "to evaluate the situation."

Anti-coup protesters, led by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have been holding small but growing weekly rallies calling for the restoration of democracy. At a protest March 23 that drew about 1,000 people, some demonstrators threw rocks, plastic bottles and chairs at police.

Another rally was called for Friday, which coup leaders have said they feared could turn violent.
Emergency powers would have allowed authorities to ban public gatherings, impose curfews and censor local news reports. But the move could also have generated more resentment against the military-installed leaders that replaced Thaksin.

Surayud made the comments after a meeting with coup leader Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who had urged the prime minister to impose emergency rule to prevent Thaksin's supporters from staging protests.

Authorities were considering holding a general election on Dec. 16 and Dec. 23 - back-to-back Sundays - said government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarb, which would be in line with pledges to hold polls before the end of the year.

To thwart protesters, city authorities issued a temporary ban from Thursday to Monday on political demonstrations at the park where Thaksin supporters were planning to gather.

Bangkok city hall officials issued the ban after a meeting with police and army officials, said Bangkok Police Commissioner Lt. Gen. Adisorn Nontree.

But protest leaders promptly announced plans to change the rally site to in front of city hall, known as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

"We have been clear from the start that our plan is to use transparent and nonviolent means to show that what (coup leaders) have done is illegitimate," said a protest leader, Natthawut Saikua.

The Sept. 19 coup that ousted Thaksin followed months of street demonstrations over allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

Many Thais are losing patience with the coup leaders, who have failed to prove corruption allegations against Thaksin and have had a run of embarrassing policy flops.

The coup leaders scrapped the previous constitution, arguing it allowed Thaksin to consolidate extraordinary powers in his hands. They have promised to hold a referendum on the new constitution, followed by elections by the end of the year.

Surayud said the referendum on the constitution is expected to be held no later than September.
Read more!