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Thursday, February 28, 2008

U.S. Navy ships move closer to Lebanon

U.S. Navy makes move amid a political standoff over Lebanon's presidency

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Navy has moved the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and other ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The deployment comes amid a political standoff over Lebanon's presidency, but the Navy would not say whether the events are linked.

"It's a group of ships that will operate in the vicinity for a while and as the ships in our Navy do, the presence is important," Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.

"It isn't meant to send any stronger signal than that," he said. "But it does signal that we're engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that's a very important part of the world."

The Cole was badly damaged by an al Qaeda bombing during a port call in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors. It returned to service in 2002.

The destroyer and two support ships are close to Lebanon but out of visual range of the coast, Pentagon officials said. Another six vessels, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau, are close to Italy and steaming toward the other three, the officials said.

Mullen would not say whether the deployment has anything to do with the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary vote on a new president, which was postponed for a 15th time earlier this week. But he said the vote was "important," and Washington was waiting for it to take place.

And a Bush administration official told CNN the decision to move ships to the region was a message to neighboringSyria that "the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved."

"We are sending a clear message for the need for stability," said the official, who was not authorized to speak for publication. The ships "should be there a while," the official added.

Lebanon's pro-Western majority in parliament and the pro-Syrian opposition have battled for power over the last three years. The country has been without a president since November, when pro-Syrian leader Emile Lahoud's term expired and parliament was unable to agree on a replacement.

Despite general agreement among the factions to award the post to army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman, disagreements over how to share power in a future Cabinet have kept the issue from coming up for a vote.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri's office announced Tuesday that the next planned session has been pushed back to March 11. Berri's office said the Arab League needed more time to break the deadlock.

Lebanon has been wracked by a sometimes-violent power struggle since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose supporters blamed Damascus for his killing. The resulting outcry eventually drove Syrian forces out of Lebanon, where they had been stationed since the 1970s.

Other news:
Geldof and Bush: Diary From the Road
It's not exactly a positive article, but it's pretty interesting.

Here is an excerpt from Bob Geldorf's article:

You forget that Bush has an M.B.A. He thinks like a businessman in terms of the bottom line. Results. Profit and loss. There is an empiricism to a lot of his furthest-reaching policies on Africa. Correctly, he's big on trade. "A 1% increase in trade from Africa," he says, "will mean more money than all the aid put together annually." He's proud that he twice reauthorized the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a modestly revolutionary Clinton Administration initiative that enabled previously heavily taxed exports to enter the U.S. tax-free. Even though oil still accounts for the vast amount of African exports to the U.S., the beneficial impact of AGOA on such places as the tiny country of Lesotho, and its growing textile industry, has been startling.

AGOA represents precisely the sort of coherent thinking that will change things for Africa. But we talk of how the little that Africa does export to other parts of the world is still greater than the amount that it trades within the continent. I say that's because there are more landlocked countries in Africa than anywhere else in the world. "So they can't get their stuff to market?" he asks quickly. "Exactly," I say. "You have to pay so many tariffs at each border that by the time you get to the coast, you're overpriced." "You gotta dismantle borders, then." He's curious and quick.

He is also, I feel, an emotional man. But sometimes he's a sentimentalist, and that's different. He is in love with America. Not the idea of America, but rather an inchoate notion of a space — a glorious metaphysical entity. But it is clear that since its mendacious beginnings, this war has thrown up a series of abuses that disgrace the U.S.'s central proposition. In the need to find morally neutralizing euphemisms to describe torture and abuse, the language itself became tortured and abused. Rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib — all are codes for what America is not. America has mortally compromised its own essential values of civil liberty while imposing its own idea of freedom on others who may not want it. The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives...

London’s edge over New York eroded

London is losing its status as the world’s leading financial centre and being overtaken by New York, according to a global survey of finance professionals.

The collapse of Northern Rock and the proposed tax crackdown on non-domiciled residents are making the UK less attractive to overseas businesses, according to the City of London Corporation, which commissioned the survey.

A separate survey, also commissioned by the City, said the UK tax system had lost its competitive edge over other financial centres. The UK had become increasingly unpredictable and uncertain, complex and unnecessarily aggressive in its approach to taxpayers, it found.

...The Global Financial Services Index, compiled from questionnaires completed by 1,200 financial services workers around the world, said London was still the leading financial centre.

The index rates cities on factors such as property costs, regulation, taxation, the supply of skilled staff, the responsiveness of government to business needs and the quality of life.

However, its lead over New York had halved over the last six months – and questionnaires returned since the second index was published in September showed New York outstripping Londonn.London was rated top based on all returns since the survey began 18 months ago, with 795 points to New York’s 786. However, the 411 responses since the September index showed New York’s score as 46 points higher.

...The second survey on tax competitiveness found that business leaders in London believed the UK’s tax framework has become less competitive at a time when many other countries were reducing their tax rates.