Sunday, January 10, 2010

Venezuela devalues currency

enezuela has devalued the bolivar, its currency, for the first time in five years in a move to reduce the fiscal deficit.

Hugo Chavez, the president, announced the devaluation to 2.6 against the US dollar from 2.15, in a speech on Friday.

He also established second exchange rate of 4.3 to the dollar.

Chavez said that the new rates have been set to boost the productive economy, "braking imports that aren't strictly necessary and stimulating export policy".

The government-set rates are an attempt to keep the cost of priority imports low in the face of an inflation rate of 25 per cent - the highest in Latin America.

The 2.5 rate will be used for those priority imports - including food, machinery, health care items, supplies for schools and products for economic development - while the second rate will be used for other transactions.

Venezuela's economy is currently in recession.

Source: Agencies

China becomes biggest exporter

China has overtaken Germany as the world's biggest exporter of goods after exports rose for the first time in 14 months, data has shown.

In the last month of 2009 Chinese exports rose 17.7 per cent on the previous year, the state-run Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, quoting figures from the general administration of customs.

That made total exports for the year just over $1.2 trillion, ahead of the $1.17 trillion forecast last month for Germany, according to the BGA foreign trade organisation.

China's new status reflects the ability of its low-cost manufacturers to keep selling abroad despite a collapse in global consumer demand due to the financial crisis.

Huang Guohua, a customs agency economist, said the December rise was an "important turning point".

"We can say that China's export enterprises have completely emerged from their all-time low in exports," Huang said.

The December data broke a long string of contracted export figures stretching back to late 2008.

Trade surplus

China's politically sensitive trade surplus shrank by 34.2 per cent in 2009 to $196.07 billion, Xinhua said.

That reflected China's stronger economic growth, driven by a $586bn stimulus package, and demand for imported raw materials and consumer goods at a time when demand in the US and other foreign markets was weaker.

China's official title of world's biggest exporter is expected to be confirmed when Germany releases full-year trade figures on February 9.

Experts have said a resurgence in Chinese trade will likely bring renewed pressure on China to let its yuan currency appreciate.

The value of the yuan, which has effectively been pegged to the US dollar since mid-2008, has been an issue of contention between Beijing and its Western trading partners, who say it keeps the currency low to boost exports.

Wen Jiabao, China's premier, said last month in an interview with state media that China would not yield to foreign pressure on the yuan.

Source: Agencies

News Middle East UAE sheikh acquitted of torture

Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the half-brother of the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been acquitted of charges of torture, his lawyer has said.

An Emirati court on Sunday acquitted Shiekh Issa despite a video tape of the 2004 incident showing him torturing an Afghan man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails.

"The court acquitted Sheikh Issa after establishing he was not responsible," for the torture, lawyer Habib al-Mulla said on Sunday.

"The court accepted our defence that the Sheikh was under the influence of drugs [medicine] that left him unaware of his actions," al-Mulla said.

Bassam and Ghassan Nabulsi, former business partners of Sheikh Issa, who filmed and kept the video tape, were sentenced in absentia to five years each in prison.

The video tape was handed to the ABC News channel last April.

Sheikh Issa was charged with rape, endangering a life and causing bodily harm, the Gulf National newspaper reported.

Al-Mulla said that Sheikh Issa, who has been in detention for the past seven months, would be released following the acquittal.


Sheikh Issa's lawyer said that he was on a high amount of medication and that he was also drugged by the Nabulsi brothers.

Sheikh Issa was in a drugged state when the incident occurred, his lawyer claimed [AFP]

He told the court they had orchestrated the incident and filmed it to use as blackmail, the National reported.

A forensic medicine expert told the court in the previous hearing that the medication Sheikh Issa was on could "cause anger, suicide, violence, depression and loss of memory".

Six other defendants faced charges for the 2004 incident, which took place in the oasis city of Al Ain.

Two of them were ordered to pay a "temporary compensation" of 10,000 dirhams ($2,724) to the Afghan, who can file a new lawsuit to claim full compensation, the lawyer added.

Three others employed at the farm where the torture took place were sentenced to between one and three years in jail. A guard at the farm was acquitted.

Savage beating

The tape shows Sheikh Issa viciously beating a worker in an empty stretch of the desert.

A man in a UAE police uniform is seen on the tape tying the victim's arms and legs, and later holding him down as the Sheikh pours salt on the man's wounds and then drives over him with his Mercedes SUV.

In a statement to ABC News in April, the UAE ministry of the interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa.

"The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behaviour," the interior ministry's statement said.

The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the police department."

Nabulsi is now suing the Sheikh in federal court in Houston, Texas, where he resides, alleging he also was tortured by UAE police when he refused to turn over the tape to the Sheikh following their falling out.

"They were my security, really, to make my case that this man is capable of doing what I say he can do," Nabulsi said in an ABC interview in April.

Nabulsi said Sheikh Issa ordered the recording of the tape because he liked to watch the torture sessions later in his royal palace.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies