Raul Castro says Cuba, U.S. have agreed to restore diplomatic relations





  Raul Castro says Cuba, U.S. have agreed to restore diplomatic relations

By Liu Bin

Cuban leader Raul Castro confirmed here Wednesday in a special TV appearance that his government and the Obama Administration of the United States had agreed to reestablish the diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In a historic TV broadcast timed to coincide with a similar address delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. , Castro insisted differences between the United States and Cuba should be resolved through “negotiation,” stressing Cuba will defend its main principles.

“We have agreed to restore diplomatic ties, though that doesn’t mean the main issue, which is the economic, trade and financial blockade, which causes major damage and must cease, has been resolved,” said Castro.

Castro also said that he and President Obama had a phone conversation Tuesday, discussing and addressing measures aiming to normalize the bilateral ties, and the proposals fully conform with the international law, the human rights and the Charter of the United Nations.

The Cuban leader called for an end to the economic, financial and trade blockade imposed by Washington against Havana since 1962, one year after the ties between the United States and Cuba severed, urging President Obama to exercise his executive power to change U. S. embargo resolutions against Cuba.

Castro voiced Cuba’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in all of the international forums.

While urging Obama to remove all the obstacles that restrict the normal links between the two nations, Castro asked Obama to recognize that there are “differences” in both countries by ” concepts of democracy, human rights and government.”

“We must learn the art of living together in a civilized way with our own differences,” said Castro.





 Cuba releases U.S. prisoner: report

By Zhou Erjie

Cuba has released Alan Gross, an American subcontractor whom it held for five years, U.S. media reported on Wednesday.

“Mr. Gross was released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the United States,” USA Today quoted an administration official as saying, adding that Gross has departed Cuba on a U.S. government plane bound for the United States.

Gross was convicted of espionage by a Cuban court in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for bringing telecommunication devices into Cuba while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to ABC News.





 Cuba sets new policies for wages paid by foreign investors

By Kong Xiaohan

Cuba’s government has approved new wage guidelines for nationals working for foreign firms in the country, state daily Granma reported Tuesday.

The new rules, covering wages and social security payments, were published in a government gazette.

Cuba’s state-run employment agencies will be responsible for negotiating wages on behalf of workers and paying their salaries, as well as hiring, training and protecting workers’ rights.

According to government statistics, Granma said, the average salary in Cuba in 2013 was 471 pesos, around 19 U.S. dollars, so wages cannot be any lower than that, including for those who have been earning Cuba’s minimum salary of 225 pesos.

The rise in wages is expected to help spur productivity, especially in industry.

More than 40,000 Cubans are expected to benefit from the higher wages as employees of joint-venture companies or wholly foreign-owned firms.

Cuba’s new Foreign Investment Law took effect in June and the country is preparing for an influx of foreign capital and businesses.

The country hopes to attract at least 2 billion dollars a year in fresh capital to revitalize the economy and push its economic growth to over 5 percent.





 Coalition airstrikes kill 13 IS fighters in Syria’s border town

By Hummam Sheikh Ali

U.S.-led anti-terror coalition launched multiple airstrikes on Wednesday, and killed 13 Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria’s eastern city of Bukamal on the borders with Iraq, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV reported.

The attack came as the Syrian troops were also marching against the IS in southern Deir al-Zour near the main military airbase, the main lifeline of the government troops in that oil-rich province.

The TV report said the Syrian troops captured the town of Dughaim near the Deir al-Zour airbase on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the oppositional Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the local al-Shuaitat tribesmen in Deir al-Zour found a mass graveyard containing tens of bodies of their fellows executed by the IS fighters.

The IS had stormed the areas of the Shuaitat tribe and committed massacres against its people for refusing to surrender.

The terrorist group has captured large chunks of Deir al-Zour over the past months, stripping the government troops of almost all of the oil and gas plants in that key province.

The crisis has become even more complicated when some radical groups are seeking to cash in on the chaotic situation in order to achieve territorial gains.

Over 190,000 Syrians were killed so far, while millions of others sought refuge in neighboring countries.





 Memorial ceremony held in DPRK to remember late leader Kim Jong Il

By Lu Rui

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a memorial ceremony Wednesday at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to mark the third anniversary of the demise of the country’s late leader Kim Jong Il, amid a solemn and memorial atmosphere in the capital city of Pyongyang.

Taking part in the memorial ceremony were the DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong Un and senior officials including Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Choe Ryong Hae, secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, and Hwang Pyong So, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army.

After all attendants paid silent tribute, Kim Yong Nam delivered a memorial address, reviewing extraordinary exploits achieved by Kim Jong Il and called on all to advance toward the final victory of Juche revolution under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.

“He (Kim Jong Il) laid powerful political, military and economic foundations for the rosy future of Songun Korea for all eternity,” he said.

Choe Ryong Hae, Hwang Pyong So and Jon Yong Nam, chairman of the Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, also addressed the ceremony.

On the same day, Kim Jong Un, together with his wife Ri Sol Ju, paid homage to the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il placed in the hall of the palace.

At noon, ships and vehicles sounded sirens and all people stood in three-minute silence across the country on Wednesday. National flags were lowered to half-mast as a mark of condolences.





 Italy’s president “strongly irritated” by Indian rejection of marines’ travel appeals

By Alessandra Cardone

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was “strongly annoyed” that India’s Supreme Court has rejected travel appeals by two Italian marines held in India on murder charges, a presidential statement said on Tuesday.

India’s top court turned down the travel applications of two navy officers, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, who were arrested in 2012 under suspicion of killing two Indian fishermen.

“The President of the Republic was strongly irritated by the news coming from New Delhi and regarding the latest negative developments in the case of the two marines,” Napolitano’s statement said.

“The president will remain in close contact with the government, and follow with great attention the guidelines that will be determined by Parliament,” it added.

In September, Latorre was allowed to return to Italy for medical treatment after a stroke. His request for extending his stay for another two months to receive a heart surgery was denied by the supreme court.

The Court also rejected Girone’s permission to travel back home for Christmas holidays. Both navy officers are currently on bail pending trial, with Girone being hosted in the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

Latorre and Girone were arrested in February 2012, after being accused of killing two fishermen during an international anti-piracy mission off the Kerala coast.

The two marines were guarding an Italian oil cargo and opened fire on a fishing boat approaching the ship. They alleged they had mistaken the boat for a pirate vessel and admitted opening fire, but denied killing the fishermen.

Italian authorities also maintained that New Delhi has no jurisdiction over Italian soldiers officially deployed abroad, and called for the settlement of the dispute by international arbitration.

India said the incident occurred in its waters and firstly invoked the domestic anti-terrorism and anti-piracy law to prosecute the marines, yet ruling out the possibility of a death penalty.

The case resulted in a two-year long bitter dispute between Rome and New Delhi, which usually share good ties.





 Italy says ready to recall ambassador to India over marine court issue

By Wang Xingqiao

Italy announced on Wednesday it was ready to recall its ambassador to India, a day after the Indian Supreme Court rejected travel appeals by two Italian marines held in New Delhi on murder charges.

“The Italian government is ready to take all necessary steps with regard to the marines detained in India, up to the recall of our ambassador in New Delhi for consultations,” Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a hearing before the joint parliamentary commission for Foreign Affairs and Defence.

According to Gentiloni, “fundamental principles of international sovereignty” would be at stake in the case and Italy would be obliged to react to India’s latest decision.

“We are disappointed and angered by the Indian Supreme Court’s decision. Our demands were humanitarian, and we were expecting a different result,” Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti also declared to the same commission on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, India’s top court turned down the travel applications of the two navy officers, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, who were arrested in 2012 under suspicion of killing two Indian fishermen during an international anti-piracy mission off the Kerala coast.

Latorre had been allowed to return to Italy in September for medical treatment after a stroke. His plea for extending his stay for another two months to receive a heart surgery and complete his rehabilitation was denied.

The Indian Court also rejected Girone’s request to travel back home for Christmas holidays. Both navy officers are currently on bail pending trial, with Girone being hosted in the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

At the hearing on Wednesday, Italy’s defence minister stressed Latorre’s recovery was a priority for the government and nothing would be done to jeopardize his situation.

“I am perfectly aware of Latorre’s health and there are no conditions for him to leave Italy. This is not an act of defiance or a will to fight, but the calm and firm acknowledgment of a situation,” Pinotti said.

The defence minister added the two marines were on duty as Italian state officers when they were arrested, and Italy has a responsibility over them.

“It would also be in the interest of India, which has many troops involved in international missions, to recognize and support the immunity of our marines before the Indian court,” she added.

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano had already expressed his “strong annoyance” at the Supreme Court’s decision, in a statement released late on Tuesday.

Latorre and Girone were arrested in February 2012 after being accused of killing two Indian fishermen. They were guarding an Italian oil cargo, and opened fire on a fishing boat approaching the ship.

The marines alleged they had mistaken the boat for a pirate vessel and admitted opening fire, but denied killing the fishermen. Italian authorities also maintained New Delhi has no jurisdiction over Italian soldiers officially deployed abroad.

India said the incident occurred in its waters and firstly invoked the anti-terrorism and anti-piracy law to prosecute the marines, yet ruling out the possibility of a death penalty. It later dropped the terrorism charges.

The latest development in the case brought about a reaction from the European Union (EU). “The decision to deny the pleas (of Latorre and Girone)… is disappointing, as a long awaited mutually agreed solution has not yet proved possible,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Tuesday night.

“The issue has the potential to impact the overall European Union-India relations and also a bearing on the global fight against piracy, to which the EU is strongly committed,” the statement said.





 Lorry drivers protest convoy blocks traffic in Helsinki

By Elina Xu

Finnish lorry drivers staged a demonstration in the capital Helsinki on Wednesday, blocking the traffic in the city center, reported Finnish national broadcaster YLE.

The lorry drivers protested against an influx of cheap labor, which has lowered the wages in the Finnish market. They called for an investigation to determine if all of the transport drivers in Finland are operating legally.

A motorcade including about 50 trucks departed from the Vuosaari harbor in eastern Helsinki at 11 am, driving slowly to the city centre. The trucks arrived at the Parliament House at around 1 pm.

The demonstration caused severe traffic congestion in downtown Helsinki around the midday.

Fortunately, it was not at rush hours, said local police, the lorry drivers’ protest passed off peacefully, and now the situation has returned to normal.

Using foreign-owned transport services for commercial and industrial transport forces wages in Finland to drop, according to the Finnish Transport and Logistics association, supervision of illegal transport and heavy loads needs to be increased in Finland.





 Ebola leaves 1 mln people facing hunger in 3 African countries: FAO, WFP

By Wang Xingqiao

The number of people facing food insecurity due to the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could top 1 million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production, two UN agencies warned in reports released on Wednesday.

The disease’ impact is potentially devastating in the three countries already coping with chronic food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) said in the reports.

Border closures, quarantines, hunting bans and other restrictions are seriously hindering people’s access to food, threatening their livelihoods, disrupting food markets and processing chains, and exacerbating shortages stemming from crop losses in areas with the highest Ebola infection rates, the Rome-based UN agencies said.

In December 2014, half a million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in the three worst hit Western African countries. The loss of productivity and household income due to Ebola-related deaths and illness as well as people staying away from work, for fear of contagion, is compounding an economic slowdown in the three countries.

The situation comes at a time when more food needs to be imported by all three countries, but revenues derived from export commodities are affected.

In their reports, FAO and WFP explained how the outbreak of Ebola has caused a significant shock to the food and agriculture sectors in the affected countries.

While estimated crop losses appear relatively modest at national level, sharp disparities in production have emerged between areas with high infection rates and other regions in the three worst-hit countries.

In particular, labor shortages have marred farming operations such as planting and weeding while movement restrictions and fear of the disease have disrupted agricultural market chains, according to the reports.

“The outbreak has revealed the vulnerability of current food production systems and value chains in the worst Ebola-affected countries,” said FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Bukar Tijani.

“FAO and partners need to act urgently to overcome the agriculture and market disruptions and their immediate impact on livelihoods which could result in a food security crisis. With timely support, we can prevent the outbreak from having a severe and long-lasting impact on rural communities,” he added.





 Amazon staff in Germany to prolong strike

By Feng Yujing

The strike at online retailer Amazon’s warehouses in many German cities will extend to Saturday, trade union Ver.di announced on Wednesday.

According to Ver.di, more than 2,600 employees of online retailer Amazon in Germany went on strike on Wednesday.

About 1,000 of them went to a central strike rally in Germany’s western city of Koblenz.

“We need a living wage, and unlimited, decent working conditions,” said ver.di union’s federal executive Stefanie Nutzenberger. He added the strikers’ courage and determination would bring Amazon to the negotiating table.

Workers in online retailer Amazon’s warehouses in Germany started a three-day strike on Monday, which coincided with Christmas shopping season in Germany.

However, Amazon, which employed more than 9,000 full-time workers in Germany, insisted that the strike would not disturb its business and customers could expect punctual deliveries.





 Russia begins mobilizing leftover reserves to save ruble

By Igor and Peng Tianxiao

The Russian Finance Ministry has begun selling its leftover currency reserves on the market, the ministry’s press office said Wednesday.

The amount that can be sold on the market is almost 7 billion U.S. dollars, which “involves funds on the federal budget’s single account in Russian Federal Treasury,” according to the ministry.

The move is part of the government’s new measures taken on Tuesday to stabilize domestic foreign currency market and prop up the ruble.

After a government meeting on financial and economic situation, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Tuesday that the government has worked out measures to stabilize the currency market.

Earlier in the day, Vladimir Chistyukhin, deputy chief of the Russian Central Bank, said that the bank has no evidence of deliberate manipulation in financial market.

“We’ve got the tools to affect players…But there must be the confirmed signs of manipulation (for using them),” Interfax news agency quoted Chistyukhin as saying.

At the moment, the bank cannot prove there are deliberate speculators “attacking” the currency exchange markets, he said, adding that the bank is carefully investigating all the cases of manipulation on the financial market, including the foreign exchange one.

Chistyukhin also assured that the suspension of currency trade would never be an option even under those difficult circumstances.

Ulyukayev on Tuesday urged the bank to take measures aimed at increasing foreign currency liquidity supply on the domestic market in order to ensure “greater balance between demand and supply on the domestic foreign currency market.”

Ruble has lost nearly 50 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar and euro since March, despite several currency interventions of the Central Bank.





 Russia takes special measures amid ruble nosedive

By Peng Tianxiao and Igor

Russian authorities have taken currency measures to stop the national currency’s free fall against the backdrop that the ruble plunged to new lows on Tuesday, with the euro once hitting 100 rubles and the U.S. dollar 80 rubles in Moscow trade.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier convened an extraordinary meeting to discuss response measures in the current financial and economic situation in the country.

According to Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, a list of measures were outlined at the meeting, including moves to increase foreign currency liquidity supply on the domestic market.

Current concern is mainly to ensure “greater balance between demand and supply on the domestic foreign currency market,” Ulyukayev said, while the focus of refinance would be changed from the ruble to foreign exchange by increasing foreign exchange offers and decreasing foreign exchange demand via free ruble assets.

Although the Russian Central Bank had made several currency interventions, it was the first time the Russian government urged taking currency measures.

Earlier in the day, Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina said the bank was not going to forcefully restrict operations on the currency market despite the troubled situation, but would steadily target inflation and sustain overall financial stability.

A free-floating ruble and a high key interest rate are among these measures, as they render currency speculations more risky, she specified.

The bank on early Tuesday morning announced raising its key interest rate to 17 percent, a dramatic move after it raised the rate to 10.5 percent only days ago.

“I would like to emphasize once again that the hike in our key rates are oriented first of all on lowering inflation and inflationary expectations. This will indirectly influence the currency market, but this may not be immediate,” according to Nabiullina.

She reiterated that the ruble is currently undervalued and that over time it will return to a more normal value.

Some experts believed that the Russian government made a right decision to raise the interest rate, as the foreign exchange market has undergone violent and irrational fluctuations for weeks, and a higher interest rate could help restore the stability of the foreign exchange market.

The market’s abnormal conditions urgently need the central bank to take some special measures, analysts said.

Former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin also approved the move, saying on Twitter that the Russian government now should adopt measures to help win back the trust of investors.

Nevertheless, some believed the latest move had failed to quell market jitters.

“The markets saw the latest moves taken by the bank as not decisive as they should be in the given circumstances,” Maxim Osadchy, head of analysis at Moscow-based Corporate Finance Bank told Xinhua.

The financial authorities still have tools to tame the out-of-control panic, said Osadchy, suggesting the key interest rate should be increased “not by percents but in times.”

Although the ruble exchange market is complicated by a range of international and domestic factors, like oil price or Russia’s commodities-reliant economy, some analysts believed that the central bank should first and foremost concentrate on limiting the liquidity of the ruble as soon as possible.





 Apple hikes prices again in Russia amid ruble slump

By Liu Hongxia

Apple fans and iPhone touts have to pay much more for the newest smartphones in Russia since Wednesday, as the dealer again hiked its prices amid the ruble’s slump.

An iPhone 6 Plus with 16 GB storage costs 67,990 rubles (some 1, 100 U.S. dollars) on Wednesday, 21,000 rubles higher than that on Tuesday. For an iPhone 6 Plus with 64 GB storage, customers have to pay 75,990 rubles (1,200 dollars), a 23,000 rubles increase within a day.

Prices for other items, such as iPad mini and iPad Air 2, have also been lifted.

Earlier Wednesday, Apple’s salesclerks in one of Moscow’s Atrium shopping malls told Xinhua reporters they “don’t have ( iPhone) 64 GB in stock today. All sold.”

The ruble plummeted to historic lows Tuesday, with the euro briefly hitting 100 rubles and the dollar 80 rubles in Moscow trade. The Apple suspended its Russian website soon afterwards, as it did in late November, when the company raised an average of some 10,000 rubles for the newest iPhones.

So far, the website is still not available as the staff are ” updating our Apple Store.” No statements have yet been issued over the prices hike.

Russia’s ruble has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the dollar and the euro since the start of the year, due to combined factors of falling oil prices and increasing Western sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.





 German gov’t approves highway toll on foreigners from 2016

By Tang Zhiqiang

German federal government on Wednesday approved a draft law to charge car drivers for using its highways, in a bid to collect funds from foreign drivers for renovating its aging infrastructure.

According to the law, all drivers using German highways, including its currently free autobahn, would be levied toll from 2016. Drivers with German registered cars, however, would be compensated by a deduction in their vehicle taxes with the same amount of the toll they paid.

Currently, only heavy trucks are charged for using German roads.

German Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the plan aimed at modernizing transportation infrastructure and transforming the maintenance from tax-financing to users-financing.

He expected around 3.7 billion euros (about 4.6 billion U.S. dollars) to be collected per year, among them around 700 million euros from foreign car owners. Deducting system costs and tax offset, a net income of 500 million euros could be raised a year.

The plan draw criticism from the European Union which accused it of discriminating foreign drivers.

Dobrindt, however, insisted that the plan was “fair” and “make sense”, and compiled with EU laws.





 Jordan denies signing gas import deal with Israel

Jordan’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Mohammad Hamed said Wednesday Jordan did not sign a deal with Israel to import natural gas.

In a statement on Wednesday, the minister said several media reports indicated that Jordan signed the agreement, which in inaccurate.

“When the deal is signed, it will be announced,” said the minister.

He added that importing natural gas is one of the strategic options for Jordan to meet rising demand on electricity.

There were several protests in Jordan over the last few weeks calling on the government not to sign the deal with Israel.

In September, Hamed said Jordan’s National Electric Power Company will sign an agreement in November with Noble Energy to buy gas from Israeli fields.

The signing of the deal was delayed, according to the minister.

The Jordanian company signed a letter of intent with the American company to buy Israeli gas, according to Hamed.

Under the agreement, the U.S. company is to provide the Jordanian power company with 300 million cubic feet of gas per day for a period of 15 years, with a total volume of 15 billion U.S. dollars.

Gas supply will commence before the end of 2017, Hamed said, adding that the supply will help reduce the losses of the power company, expected to reach 1.9 billion U.S. dollars by the end of 2014.

Jordan imports annually approximately 97 percent of its energy needs.





 Romania discovers biggest oil gas deposit in 30 years

By Chen Jin and Lin Huifen

Romania discovered a new deposit of crude oil and natural gas, which may be the biggest discovery of its kind in the past 30 years in the south, a Romanian oil company announced Wednesday.

According to OMV Petrom, a subsidiary of the Austrian group OMV, the deposit was discovered at a depth of 2,500 meters in the south of Buzau County.

The estimates obtained from the production tests indicate a potential production per well of 1,200-2,100 boe per day.

The discovery has been made under the onshore exploration partnership signed in 2010 by OMV Petrom and Hunt Oil Company of Romania, the company said, adding that the exploration investment led to this discovery amounts to 5 million euros (6.25 million U.S. dollars).

OMV Petrom is the largest producer of oil and gas in southeastern Europe, with an annual production of crude oil and natural gas of 66 million boe.





 US will bid for 2024 Olympics

By Peng Zhuo

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced on Tuesday it will bid for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics but decided not to choose a city until next month.

Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C had all made presentations to the USOC Board in Redwood City, California, and USOC chairman Larry Probst said they had decided not to announce a decision until at least next month to give themselves more time.

“We are going to take our time and pick the city we think has the best chance of winning the competition from other cities around the world,” he said.

Probst admitted that they would pick a “single city”, ruling out a joint bid from Los Angeles and San Francisco, an idea that had gained momentum since the adoption by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week of Agenda 2020, which allows cities to put in joint bids.

America has not hosted the Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996. New York City and Chicago bid unsuccessfully for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, events awarded to London and Rio de Janeiro respectively.

Rome is the only city to have officially declared so far it will bid for the 2024 Olympics but Germany is expected to put forward either Berlin or Hamburg.

The deadline for confirming bids is September 15 next year but a special invitation phase for the 2024 Olympic bid process will start on January 15, with the IOC keen to provide more consultation with cities in order to generate more popular support.




LAUSANNE, Switzerland

 IOC President welcomes U.S. to bid for 2024 Olympics

By Chen Hongyi

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Wednesday welcomed the United States to bid for the 2024 Olympics.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Olympic Committee board voted in favor of a bid.However, they have to choose one city out of four to put forward, namely Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.

Bach said that no matter which city was chosen, it would be a very strong contender.

The latest Summer Olympics held in the United States was in 1996 in Atlanta. In the bids for 2012 and 2016 Games, New York and Chicago failed respectively.





 Church of England announces first female bishop

By Xia Xiao

The first female bishop in the Church of England was announced Wednesday, ending the history that only male could be the bishop of church.

Downing Street announced on Wednesday that Revd Libby Lane will be the new Bishop of Stockport, while her duty will serve as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Chester.

Church of England said she will be consecrated as the 8th Bishop of Stockport at a ceremony at York Minster on January 26.

“I am grateful for, though somewhat daunted by, the confidence placed in me by the Diocese of Chester. This is unexpected and very exciting,” Revd Libby Lane said at Stockport town hall after the nomination, which was also approved by the Queen.

“On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God,” she added.

Libby Lane was ordained as a priest in 1994 and has served a number of parish and chaplaincy roles in the North of England in the Dioceses of Blackburn, York and Chester. For the past 8 years she has served as Vicar of St. Peter’s Hale and St. Elizabeth’s Ashley.





 Vietnam suspends fruit imports from Australia over fruit fly concerns

By Anh

Vietnam has decided to suspend imports of fruits from Australia for concerns over fruit fly, according to the Department of Plant Protection under Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on Wednesday.

Nguyen Xuan Hong, director of the department, said imports of all 38 kinds of Australian fruits will be suspended from Jan. 1, 2015 to prevent fruit fly infestation as Australia is facing outbreaks of fruit fly which attack and damage fruits and vegetables.

Vietnam has sent an announcement to the Australian side in accordance with international regulations, said Hong.

He said quarantine work will be strengthened for fruit shipments on the way to Vietnam.

The imports will be resumed when no fruit fly outbreak is reported in Australia and if the country’s fruits meet quarantine requirements of Vietnam, reported the website of the Vietnamese government on Wednesday.

According to statistics by the Department of Plant Protection, in the first 10 months of 2014, Vietnam imported some 2,000 tons of fruits from Australia, mainly apples, pears, grapes and cherries.





 Nigeria targets 3.5 mln farm jobs in 2015

By Olatunji Saliu

Nigeria is set to generate 3.5 million farm jobs in 2015, a proof that the ongoing transformation agenda in the agricultural sector of the economy could yield more fruitful results, president of the West African country Goodluck Jonathan said Wednesday.

Noting so far 3 million jobs have been created in the sector, the Nigerian leader said agriculture will help the country cushion the effect of the fall in global crude oil price.

“The decline in the price of crude oil did not take us by surprise. For the past three years, we had been engaged on a carefully designed and implemented agricultural transformation agenda,” said Jonathan while launching the Youth Employment in Agriculture Program at the Nigerian capital Abuja.

He said the country saw production of 21 million metric tons of food in the past three years, and this have created a buffer and mitigated the impact of the devaluation on food prices.

According to the president, the gap between the farmers and government has been substantially bridged, as farmers across the country are being touched by the new drive for food production.

“Our food import bill declined from 1.1 trillion naira (5.9 billion U.S. dollars) in 2009 to 624 billion naira by December of 2013, and continues to decline. Our electronic wallet system, which allows us to reach farmers with subsidized seeds and fertilizers via mobile phones, has become the backbone of a more modern agricultural sector,” the Nigerian president said, adding more than 14 million farmers had received their subsidized farm inputs through the e-wallet system.

He said more than 5.6 billion dollars of new private sector investments have come into the agricultural sector, an indication that local and foreign businesses see the African nation’s agricultural sector as very viable for investments.

According to him, agriculture has become the new wealth sector for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, which also expects an injection of 100 million dollars toward providing affordable long term financing for agribusiness.

The 100 million dollars will be deployed by the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria initiative, aimed at providing affordable long term financing to support the development of small and medium scale agribusinesses, Jonathan added.





 Kenyan girls camp in schools to avoid cut, marriage

By Deng Yaomin

Jane Riwoi, a girl at a local primary school in Kapenguria town in West Pokot County, northwest Kenya, is not spending the December holiday with her parents.

Riwoi is still in school after she got wind that her parents planned to circumcise and marries her off.

“I fear going home because my parents intended to marry me off to an elderly man in the neighboring village,” Riwoi told Xinhua at school.

“I better stray in school and miss the celebration than married off before I complete my education,” says Riwoi who aspires to become a nurse.

Riwoi is among over 500 girls camping in local school after they declined to proceed to their homes after schools closed down for the December holiday. “These girls refused to go home for the holiday because they feared the cut and early marriage, and we are supporting them to cope here,” said Teresa Lukichu, a local nominated leader.

Many pastoralists in the county planned to secretly have their daughters face the cut before marrying them off to acquire wealth.

Lukichu told Xinhua she and other right activists planned to take the girls to a tour to Kitale and Eldoret towns to ensure they are comfortable.

The fight against female genital mutilation by the government and organizations among the Pokot pastoralists is being frustrated by lack of support from the local community who are deeply indebted in culture.

A leading NGO involved in curbing the vice accused the reluctance by the community to allow the implementation of anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) law.

Kepsteno Rotwoo Tipin, a local organization championing for girl child rights, said time has come for the community to quit primitive cultures undermining child development such as FGM and early marriages.

The organization’s coordinator Moses Lokeres said offenders of the illegal cut walk scot-free from courts, and courts are unable to prosecute those found committing the outdated cultural practice because of lack of witnesses.

“Last year, together with the help from tribal chiefs we managed to arrest parents who had subjected her daughters to the cut, but the court was unable to jail them because no resident was willing to testify,” he said.

Lokeres said for the past four years, the organization has been operational and they have managed to rescue over 1,000 girls from the cut. “Out of the 1000 girls we rescued, six were subjected to the cut during child birth.”

David Mutuku, Assistant Commissioner in Pokot Central, said local government is alert, and no girl will be subjected to the cut during the December holiday.

He said chiefs from worst hit areas have been trained by officials on how to effectively implement law, hence reducing the cases which currently stand at 43 percent.

“Chiefs have been trained to be alert and arrest those found engaging in the vice,” Mutuku said.

The official asked parents in the region to reduce the pride price for their daughters since it’s one of the major contributing factor for the outdated rite.

“Heavy pride price for girls who have been cut has forced parents to subject the girls to the knife secretly so that they earn more cows during wedding ceremonies,” he said.





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