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Daily Archives: January 22, 2008

Asian shares plunge again amid near-panic selling

 Image Asian shares plunged again yesterday as the threat of a US recession led panicky investors to dump stocks, sending a clutch of markets down more than seven percent and Tokyo to a 28-month low. 



Every market in the region was in virtual free-fall during the day. Trading was briefly suspended in South Korea and India, while jittery investors elsewhere watched markets open sharply in the red — and then keep plummeting.Hong Kong suffered the worst slide among Asia's biggest markets, slumping nearly nine percent. China and Australia both tumbled more than seven percent.Taiwan ended down 6.51 percent while Tokyo, the region's biggest stock market, slid 5.65 percent to below the 13,000 points level for the first time since September 2005.Investors in Asia fear the US, a key buyer of Asian goods, could be heading for a recession after a major financial crisis. Wall Street was shut for a holiday Monday but onlookers were braced for falls when it reopened yesterday.The losses in Asia came just a day after Europe's key stock exchanges suffered their biggest one-day drops since the September 11 attacks on the United States.Governments urged calm yesterday while calling for international cooperation to cope with a global slide in stock markets.Analysts say plunging share prices threaten Asian economies but they could still keep growing despite any US recession as long as the rout does not worsen. Pages 18, 19

UN Security Council to hold emergency meeting on Gaza Tuesday

by Gerard Aziakou* The UN Security Council was to meet in emergency session yesterday on the humanitarian crisis triggered by Israel's crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip in response to the firing of rockets into the Jewish state.The 15-member body was to meet at 10 am (11:00 pm in Macau) at the request of Arab UN ambassadors and the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.The decision to hold the emergency session was made during closed-door consultations late Monday amid a growing international outcry at what the European Union termed the "collective punishment" of Gaza's 1.5 million residents.The strong international reaction and warnings of a humanitarian crisis led Israel Monday to ease its blockade of Gaza, allowing in some fuel and medicine.Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the impoverished territory to be resupplied from Tuesday with fuel for its sole electricity plant which was forced to shut down and with medicine for its hospitals on Wednesday.Trucks carrying fuel entered the Gaza Strip early yesterday and the director of the power plant told AFP that he was hoping to resume generating electricity within the coming hours.Earlier the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) had warned it would be forced to stop food distribution to hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents within days if the lockdown continues.Palestinian UN observer Ryad Mansour told reporters in New York Monday that he wanted the 15-member council to adopt a resolution or a statement demanding that Israel lift "its crippling, cruel siege on the Palestinian civilian population."The Gaza Strip, where most of the 1.5 million residents depend on aid, has been sealed off since Thursday when Israel closed all crossing points into the territory in response to continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.The lockdown came as Gaza was already reeling from restrictions Israel imposed after the hardline Hamas movement seized power there seven months ago.Over the past week Israeli raids in Gaza have killed 37 people, mostly militants, while gunmen have launched some 200 rockets or mortar bombs into Israel, lightly wounding at least 10 people.US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said Wednesday that while Israel had the right to defend itself, it had "to take the impact (of its response) on the civilians into account."Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas took credit for Israel's reversal and "succeeded in convincing the Israeli side to restore fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip in the coming hours," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.The easing of the blockade was welcomed by Khaled Meshaal, the exiled chief of the Islamist Hamas movement that has run the Palestinian coastal territory since it ousted forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas last June.However Meshaal reaffirmed his movement's commitment to armed struggle against Israel.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov however urged Meshaal in a phone call to halt rocket attacks on Israel.But after a fourth day of hardship for Gaza, Hamas pledged to continue fighting, and said its armed wing had fired more rockets at Israel.Egypt meanwhile came under pressure to open Gaza's only access to the outside world that bypasses the Jewish state.EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner warned that neither the blockade nor the deadly air and ground strikes of the past week would bring Israel security from militant rocket fire."Only a credible political agreement this year … can turn Palestinians away from violence," she said.Israel revived peace talks with moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the Annapolis conference in the United States last November.During a visit to the Holy Land less than two weeks ago, US President George W. Bush said he hoped to see a final agreement before he leaves office next January.But the leading radical Arab state, Syria, said Israel's actions against Gaza made a mockery of the relaunched peace talks."Talk of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians flies in the face of the green light being given to the attacks and blockade," a Syrian foreign ministry statement said. * AFP