US lauds restoration of CJ

WASHINGTON: The United States is praising Pakistan’s plan to reinstate a fired Supreme Court chief justice whose supporters had threatened to march on the capital.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Monday that the decision by Pakistan’s leaders had “brought Pakistan back from the brink.”

Wood says Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s calls over the weekend to U.S.-allied President Asif Ali Zardari, who had refused to restore the independent-minded justice, and to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif were meant to signal a concern over the situation and a desire for a nonviolent outcome.

Wood was careful to note that there were no U.S. demands and “no threats at all” in Clinton’s calls.

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Obama challenges lobbyists to legislative duel

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama challenged the nation’s vested interests to a legislative duel Saturday, saying he will fight to change health care, energy and education in dramatic ways that will upset the status quo.

“The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long,” Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. “But I don’t. I work for the American people.”

He said the ambitious budget plan he presented Thursday will help millions of people, but only if Congress overcomes resistance from deep-pocket lobbies.

“I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight,” Obama said, using tough-guy language reminiscent of his predecessor, George W. Bush. “My message to them is this: So am I.”

The bring-it-on tone underscored Obama’s combative side as he prepares for a drawn-out battle over his tax and spending proposals. Sometimes he uses more conciliatory language and stresses the need for bipartisanship. Often he favors lofty, inspirational phrases.

On Saturday, he was a full-throated populist, casting himself as the people’s champion confronting special interest groups that care more about themselves and the wealthy than about the average American.

Some analysts say Obama’s proposals are almost radical. But he said all of them were included in his campaign promises. “It is the change the American people voted for in November,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said, well-financed interest groups will fight back furiously.

Insurance companies will dislike having “to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that’s how we’ll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs,” the president said. “I know that banks and big student lenders won’t like the idea that we’re ending their huge taxpayer subsidies, but that’s how we’ll save taxpayers nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable. I know that oil and gas companies won’t like us ending nearly $30 billion in tax breaks, but that’s how we’ll help fund a renewable energy economy.”

Passing the budget, even with a Democratic-controlled Congress, “won’t be easy,” Obama said. “Because it represents real and dramatic change, it also represents a threat to the status quo in Washington.”

Obama also promoted his economic proposals in a video message to a group meeting in Los Angeles on “the state of the black union.”

“We have done more in these past 30 days to bring about progressive change than we have in the past many years,” the president in remarks the White House released in advance. “We are closing the gap between the nation we are and the nation we can be by implementing policies that will speed our recovery and build a foundation for lasting prosperity and opportunity.”

Congressional Republicans continued to bash Obama’s spending proposals and his projection of a $1.75 trillion deficit this year.

Almost every day brings another “multibillion-dollar government spending plan being proposed or even worse, passed,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who gave the GOP‘s weekly address.

He said Obama is pushing “the single largest increase in federal spending in the history of the United States, while driving the deficit to levels that were once thought impossible.”

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US wants Swiss bank UBS to identify tax dodgers

WASHINGTON: The United States wants UBS to stop hiding tax cheats.

U.S. tax collectors slapped the Swiss-based banking giant with a lawsuit Thursday seeking the identities of tens of thousands of clients, who kept billions of dollars in assets at the bank to dodge the IRS.

A defiant Swiss president pledged to maintain his country’s bank secrecy laws. In the suit filed in Miami, the Obama administration wants UBS to turn over information on as many as 52,000 U.S. customers, who concealed their accounts from the U.S. government in violation of tax laws. “At a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs, their homes and their health care, it is appalling that more than 50,000 of the wealthiest among us have actively sought to evade their civil and legal duty to pay taxes,” the acting assistant attorney general, John DiCicco, said in a statement.

A deal announced Wednesday provides access to about 250 to 300UBS customers, who used Swiss bank secrecy laws to hide assets. To avoid prosecution, UBS agreed to pay $780 million, which Justice Department officials said was the largest ever in a criminal tax case. The bank’s chairman, Peter Kurer, said UBS accepted “full responsibility” for helping its U.S. clients conceal assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

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Kyrgyz parliament approves US base closure

BISHKEK: Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted Thursday to close a key U.S. air base in the country a move that could hamper President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Deputies voted 78-1 for the government-backed bill to cancel the lease agreement on the Manas air base, a transit point for 15,000 troops and 500 tons of cargo each month to and from Afghanistan. Two deputies abstained.

If President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signs the bill and Kyrgyz authorities issue an eviction notice, the United States will have180 days to vacate the base.

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Syria wants better ties with US

DAMASCUS: Syria’s president has told a visiting US senator that his country wants to develop relations with the United States after several years of tensions.

Syria’s official news agency says Assad held talks Wednesday with Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat that focused on developing bilateral relations through serious dialogue.

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Iran denies holding missing US ex-agent

TEHRAN: The Iranian judiciary denied on Tuesday that it was holding former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing almost two years ago on an island in the Gulf.

“We do not have anyone with this name in our prisons, no cases have been formed in prisons or by judicial authorities,” judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters when asked whether Levinson was being held in a secret jail in Iran.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month called on Iran to release Levinson, who retired from service a decade ago. According to his family, Levinson travelled to the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007 to investigate cigarette counterfeiting in the region. Florida Senator Bill Nelson told this month that he believed Levinson was alive and that “he’s being held by the Iranians.”

The report further said that “some US intelligence officials” believe Tehran may consider releasing Levinson as part of a swap for several Iranians seized by US military forces in northern Iraq in 2007. The mystery of Levinson’s disappearance is a further strain in relations between the United States and Iran, which have had no diplomatic ties for nearly three decades and remain at loggerheads over the Iranian nuclear drive.

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G7 powers head to Rome as crisis rages

ROME: G7 finance ministers headed to Rome to discuss the global economic crisis on Friday with a warning from Germany that the world could be plunged back into the dark days of the 1930s, if governments resorted to protectionism.

The G7 industrialised economic powers, all in recession, are under pressure to prove they can work together to stop the rot rather than engaging in a battle of “beggar-thy-neighbour”, and Berlin made it clear the latter was an increasingly real risk. “We will have to do everything to ensure history does not repeat itself,” German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told parliament a few hours ahead of the Rome meeting.

“Right now, I think Germany has a huge interest in ensuring, at international meetings, that the world does not make the same mistakes it made in the 1930s.” He cited the “buy American” clause in an economic stimulus package the U.S. Congress is due to vote on just as the finance ministers of the G7 powers — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — meet over dinner in Rome.

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Turkish bombs kill 13 Kurdish rebels in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Turkish armed forces killed 13 Kurdish PKK rebels during an air strike last week in northern Iraq, the state-run news agency Anatolian reported on Friday. The air strike also badly damaged a PKK operations and logistics base, according to Anatolian. Kurdish separatist fighters use northern Iraq’s autonomous northern region as a base to launch attacks on targets in southeastern Turkey, and Turkish forces have frequently retaliated with air and artillery strikes. In early 2008, Turkey sent thousands of troops across the border in an attempt to flush out the PKK guerrillas and end their cross-border attacks. Ankara, like the European Union and United States, calls the PKK a terrorist organisation. Around 40,000 people have been killed since 1984, when the PKK took up arms with a view to establishing an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey. source :

Joe Biden sworn in as US Vice President

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 47th vice president of the United States.

Biden raised his right hand and took his oath of office Tuesday from Associate Justice John Paul Stevens.

In that moment, he became second-in-command to both Barack Obama and to a nation eager for change. The swearing-in came shortly before Obama was to take his own oath on the West Front of the Capitol.

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Arabs pledge to speed up economic integration

KUWAIT CITY: Arab leaders meeting in Kuwait approved a declaration Tuesday calling for steps to accelerate the economic integration of Arab states and confront the fallout of the global financial crisis.

The Kuwait Declaration called for “adopting monetary and fiscal policies to enable Arab nations to face the consequences of the global financial crisis.”

Arab countries have incurred losses of 2.5 trillion dollars due to the financial and economic turmoil, Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah said last week.

The leaders also announced the establishment of the Arab Development Fund with capital of two billion dollars to provide loans and assistance for Arab joint projects.

The declaration urged “necessary steps to uplift the living standards of Arab citizens and to give priority to promoting inter-Arab investments.”

The Arab League, an organisation comprising 22 member states, estimates Arab capital invested at home is less than 20 percent of funds invested by Arab nations and businessmen in the United States and Europe.

“Despite progress made by some Arab nations, the Arab world is still facing many challenges… especially poverty, unemployment, poor inter-Arab trade and migration of Arab capital and brains,” the declaration said.

It also appealed for “strengthening the role of Arab funds and financial institutions by boosting their resources and easing restrictions on providing loans.”

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