Idea Kadhafi will step down ‘ridiculous,’ says son 

The charred hand of a pro-Kadhafi fighter is seen as Libyan rebel fighters buried him in a communal grave near the western gate of Ajdabiya.

Libyan rebels rejected an African Union initiative for a truce accepted by Moamer Kadhafi, and said the only solution was the strongman’s ouster, an idea his son called “ridiculous.”

The rebel rejection came after NATO chiefs warned that any deal must be “credible and verifiable,” and as alliance warplanes were again in action against heavy Kadhafi weaponry pounding Ajdabiya and Misrata.

A delegation of leaders mandated by the African Union (AU) to stop the fighting in Libya arrived late Monday in the Algerian capital for two days of talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, APS news agency reported.

“We are working to find a solution to this complex question and we are continuing our efforts to get out of this crisis,” Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was quoted as saying on arrival.

He was accompanied by Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, AU Commission chairman Jean Ping and Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello, APS said.

Kadhafi has accepted a proposed “roadmap” calling for an immediate ceasefire, boosted humanitarian aid and dialogue between the two sides, but the insurgents have rejected the plan, saying Kadhafi must go immediately.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also stuck to US demands for Kadhafi to step down and leave Libya as part of a peaceful transition, but declined to comment on the proposed African Union deal before being fully briefed.

She told a news conference in Washington however that “there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Kadhafi from power and from Libya.”

Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam admitted that it was time for “new blood” in Libya, but called talk of his father stepping down “ridiculous.”

“The Libyan Guide (Kadhafi) does not want to control everything. He is at an advanced age. We would like to bring a new elite of young people onto the scene to lead the country and direct local affairs,” he told France’s BFM TV.

“We need new blood — that is what we want for the future — but talk of the Guide leaving is truly ridiculous,” he added.

In Benghazi, rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the African initiative did not go far enough.

“From the first day the demand of our people has been the ouster of Kadhafi and the fall of his regime,” he said.

“Kadhafi and his sons must leave immediately if they want to be safe… Any initiative that does not include the people’s demand, the popular demand, essential demand, we cannot possibly recognise.”

NATO, meanwhile, said it struck more loyalist targets around Ajdabiya and the besieged port of Misrata on Sunday and Monday, destroying 11 Kadhafi regime tanks and five military vehicles.

The regime warned that any foreign intervention under the pretext of bringing aid into Misrata would be met by “staunch armed resistance,” the official JANA news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

Diplomats in Brussels said on Friday that the EU was gearing up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission to evacuate wounded from Misrata and deliver food, water and medicine to the city.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that warplanes will keep pounding Libyan forces as long as civilians are at risk.

“I would also like to stress that the guiding principle for us will be how to implement the UN Security Council resolution fully, that is to protect the civilians against any attack,” he said.

Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the rebels’ Transitional National Council, welcomed the African Union efforts, but demanded Kadhafi’s overthrow.

“The people must be allowed to go into the streets to express their opinion and the soldiers must return to their barracks,” he told AFP.

“If people are free to come out and demonstrate in Tripoli, then that’s it. I imagine all of Libya will be liberated within moments.”

He also demanded the release of hundreds of people missing since the outbreak of the popular uprising and believed to be held by Kadhafi’s forces.

South African President Jacob Zuma said earlier that Tripoli had accepted the African Union plan for a ceasefire.

“We also in this communique are making a call on NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give a ceasefire a chance,” he said.

The rebels, however, doubted Kadhafi would adhere to a truce.

“The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes (Kadhafi) starts shooting again,” Abdulmolah said.

The rebels have said they would negotiate a political transition to democracy with certain senior regime figures, but only on the condition that Kadhafi and his sons leave Libya.

Meanwhile, Libya’s former foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who is in Britain after defecting from Moamer Kadhafi’s regime, told the BBC Monday that the restive nation could become a “new Somalia” if civil war broke out.

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US will respond to Chinese military advances: Gates 

In this Friday Jan. 7, 2011, photo, a prototype of the Chinese J-20 stealth plane is seen during a runway test in Chengdu, southwest China.

The United States will enhance its own capabilities in response to China’s growing military muscle, Defense chief Robert Gates said on Saturday, as he to flew to Beijing for talks with China’s political and military leaders.

As its economy booms, China has significantly increased investment in its military, and its faster-than-expected advances in its ballistic missile, combat aircraft and other strategic programs have raised eyebrows in the United States.

Gates acknowledge that some of China’s advances, if confirmed, could eventually undermine traditional US military capabilities in the Pacific region.

“They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk and we have to pay attention to them. We have to respond appropriately with our own programs,” Gates told reporters.

“My hope is that through the strategic dialogue that I’m talking about, that maybe the need for some of these capabilities is reduced.”

Gates cited a five-year budget outline that he unveiled on Thursday as an example of how the US military would maintain its edge. It included funding for a new generation of long-range nuclear bombers, new electronic jammers and radar, and new satellite launch technology.

But critics in Congress seized upon the budget outline’s $78 billion in overall defense spending cuts as a sign that key US military capabilities would be under-funded.

US officials have taken note of disclosures in recent weeks of advances in China’s capabilities, including in its anti-ship ballistic missile program, which could challenge US aircraft carriers in the Pacific.

“I’ve been concerned about the development of the anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job,” Gates said. He added China appeared “fairly far along” with its anti-ship ballistic missile but he said he did not know if it was operational yet.

China may also be ready to launch its first aircraft carrier in 2011, faster than some estimates, and new photos indicate it has a prototype of a stealth fighter jet.

Still, Gates appeared to play down the Chinese program. Asked about its prototype, he said: “I think there is some question about just how stealthy” it is.

No dramatic breakthroughs

The stated goal of Gates’ Jan 9-12 trip to China is to improve relations with China’s military.

US and Chinese military ties were suspended through most of 2010, as Beijing protested President Barack Obama’s proposed arms sale to Taiwan. His trip to China is the most visible demonstration that relations have normalized.

Gates said he did not expect any dramatic breakthrough in relations with China’s military during the visit, saying an improvement in ties was more likely to be gradual.

“I think this is evolutionary, particularly the military to military side,” Gates said.

“So rather than something dramatic, some kind of dramatic breakthrough, I think just getting some things started would be a positive outcome,” he added, after having spoken at length about ways the US and China could improve dialogue.

Analysts warn that as China’s military expands its reach, the risks of potentially dangerous misunderstandings between the US and Chinese militaries will increase.

That bolsters US arguments about the need for sustained US-China contacts that can endure friction over issues like Taiwan, as opposed to on-again, off-again contacts that have characterized the relationship for years.

Gates’ visit comes a week before Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington, creating diplomatic momentum that US officials hope will allow Gates to make headway on sticky security issues.

“I think the Chinese’ clear desire that I come first, come to China before President Hu goes to Washington, was an indication of their interest in strengthening this part of the relationship,” Gates said.

He also praised China’s efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. As North Korea’s main diplomatic and economic backer, China has been under pressure to rein in Pyongyang after the north was accused of sinking a South Korean warship and shelling a South Korean island last year.

“We recognize that China played a constructive role in lessening tensions on the peninsula in the latter part of last year,” he said.

US tax-cut bill nears Senate approval 

President Barack Obama makes a statement about the senate vote on middle class tax cuts in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington, December 13, 2010.

President Barack Obama’s sweeping plan to extend expiring tax cuts for millions of Americans headed for overwhelming passage in the Senate on Wednesday, putting the measure’s fate in the hands of the House of Representatives.

As the Senate neared what appeared to be a rare bipartisan vote on the bill to renew all Bush-era income tax breaks and add some provisions designed to stimulate the US economy, House Democrats mulled ways to pull back on some of the measure’s tax breaks for the wealthy.

But even liberal House Democrats acknowledged there might not be enough support to significantly alter the legislation brokered by Obama and congressional Republicans that includes expanded tax breaks for wealthy estates.

“My guess is that the whole package passes,” said liberal Democratic Representative James Moran. “The Democratic caucus might not support it,” he said, but added, “I don’t know how much leverage there is” to significantly alter the bill.

Before the Senate votes, it will debate three initiatives that likely will fail: a Republican plan making all of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, another Republican plan requiring that extended jobless benefits be paid for through spending cuts, and a Democratic proposal excluding the wealthiest 2 percent from tax cuts.

While there had been talk of trying to curtail tax breaks for ethanol blenders, no such amendment will be allowed in the Senate.

The package also got a boost in the House, where it faces its stiffest resistance, when a top Democrat said there are “compelling reasons” to pass it.

The bullish comments by House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled opposition was dissipating among Democrats who believe Obama’s $858 billion tax deal, brokered with the opposition Republicans, is too generous to the wealthy.

The measure cleared a key Senate procedural hurdle on Monday, with 83 of the chamber’s 100 members voting in favor of moving the bill forward.

It extends for two years all Bush-era individual tax rates, prevents a spike in taxes on capital gains and dividends and renews long-term insurance for the jobless, while providing an assortment of new tax breaks for students, working families and businesses.

Economists have boosted growth forecasts based on the bill’s likely passage, citing in particular a one-year cut in the payroll tax and removal of uncertainty about taxes in general.

At the same time, deficit watchers fear the measure’s impact on the nearly $14 trillion federal debt.

Monday’s bipartisan vote was in sharp contrast to the gridlock that has tied the Democratic-led chamber in knots for much of the first two years of Obama’s presidency.

“The vote in the Senate indicates an urgency that is felt by a broad spectrum that the middle-income taxes not be increased come January 1,” Hoyer told reporters.

“Rarely do you see that big a number” in support of a bill, Hoyer said, also noting a swath from the very liberal to the very conservative backed it.

Obama and most of his fellow Democrats had pushed for extension of the tax cuts enacted by former President George W. Bush only on household income of up to $250,000.

Democrats lost control of the House and saw their margins shrink in the Senate in the November 2 elections, pushing Obama to strike the deal before the Republicans take more power in January.

Estate tax

A bid by some House Democrats to tighten an estate tax provision to make it less generous for the wealthy is expected to fail, but could slow down eventual passage.

On Monday, Moody’s Investors Service warned it was considering cutting the United States’ top-notch triple-A bond rating in the next two years if the package becomes law because it would push up debt levels.

Worries about the bill’s potential affect on the federal deficit prompted a two-day sell-off of US Treasury bonds last week.

Lawmakers have said they want to recess for the year by the end of the week, though that timeline is tentative.

Many House Democrats believe Obama struck an especially bad deal on the estate tax, conceding to Republican demands it exempt the first $5 million of inherited assets from taxes, with estates above that taxed at 35 percent.

Democrats favor a $3.5 million exemption and a 45 percent tax rate.

Hoyer said many Democrats want a separate amendment on the estate tax, but also said there is concern that debate over estate taxes could derail the whole deal and that no decision had been made.

“Given all of the problems facing this country, lowering taxes for people who are extraordinarily wealthy, whose incomes are soaring, whose tax rates are going down, should not be a major priority of the US Senate,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who helped lead the opposition.

Still, a senior House Democratic aide said he doubts there are enough members to back a weakened estate tax.

“It would give members a chance to vent to vote against it,” the aide said. “But I doubt” there are enough votes to change it.

Vietnam wants further cooperation with UN agencies: president


President Nguyen Minh Triet said Vietnam wanted to boost its cooperation with UN agencies in terms of quality and efficiency, stressing the country’s need for continuous cooperation and support from those agencies.

Triet delivered the statement during his meeting in Hanoi Friday with the UN Resident Coordinator in Vietnam, John Hendra.

The Vietnamese President applauded the contributions of a number of UN agencies to Vietnam’s socio-economic development and said he wished for further cooperation with those agencies.

He highlighted the important role of the UN coordinator in Vietnam in helping the international community gain a thorough understanding of the country.

Triet also reiterated the country’s backing of the UN reform process, which includes those agencies posted in Vietnam, describing the “One UN” initiative as a much-needed reform.

He confirmed the country’s support for multilateral institutions, particularly the UN, in increasingly promoting their role in solving international issues.

The UN Resident Coordinator talked about Vietnam’s numerous contributions to the reform of the UN Security Council, saying that he expected Vietnam to make even greater contributions to UN activities in the future.

He told Triet that, in the current economic situation, UN agencies in Vietnam were looking to shift to providing policy consultancy services to the nation and helping strengthen the country’s policy-building capacity.

Although Vietnam is a pioneer in implementing a number of UN programs, including the “One UN” initiative, there were vital goals within those programs relating to legal reform and state management, Hendra reminded his host.

Source: VNA

Indian businesses eye Vietnam: president


Many Indian businesses want to invest in Vietnam not only for trade purposes but also with the aim of strengthening the two countries’ ties, visiting Indian President Pratibha Devishingh Patil said Friday.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Patil said India’s recognition of Vietnam as a market economy would be made official as soon as possible.

Dung confirmed Vietnam’s support for India’s Look East Policy, as well as its bid to become a permanent member of the extended UN Security Council and its candidacy for a non-permanent seat at the council for the 2011-2012 term.

The Vietnamese PM also expressed his sympathy to the Indian President for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on Wednesday and reiterated Vietnam’s vehement condemnation of all terrorist acts, in any form and for any reason.

The Indian President left Hanoi Friday afternoon, concluding her five-day visit to Vietnam.

Source: VNA

President flags food security commitment at APEC summit


Vietnam is willing to cooperate with other APEC members on food security through technical assistance and sharing of agricultural production experience and techniques.

President Nguyen Minh Triet delivered the message at the first APEC Leaders’ Retreat, which opened in the Peruvian capital of Lima November 22 (local time).

The meeting, chaired by Peruvian President Alan Garcia Perez, focused on the global financial crisis, the fluctuation of food and goods prices, and the Doha round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade talks.

Triet called on major economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to open their markets, restore confidence, combat all forms of subsidy, accelerate the Doha Round of WTO talks, and continue giving priority to challenges related to poverty, diseases and the environment.

To assist developing economies implement the Millennium Development Goals, Vietnam and the Republic of Korea proposed that developed APEC economies should continue providing them with official development assistance (ODA).

At the meeting, APEC leaders adopted the Lima declaration on the global economy, with resolve to speed up financial reform in member economies, reform the international financial system, combat subsidy moves and push for the signing of a WTO agreement on tax reduction next month.

Earlier in the day, Triet held talks with representatives of the US Business Alliance at APEC, which was set up in 1993 to handle the US business operations with regional economic groups.

Triet affirmed that Vietnam always welcomes US businesses to the country.

Representatives of US businesses said they considered Vietnam a dynamic economy in APEC with a transparent investment environment.

Source: VNA