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El Nino weather menace looms for frail economies

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An aerial view of the flooded outskirts of Trinidad, Beni, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of La Paz, February 22, 2007. A nascent El Nino weather cycle threatens to wreak more economic havoc and disrupt raw material production across a wide swath of the world, evoking memories of the killer edition of 1998.

El Nino weather menace looms for frail economies

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A nascent El Nino weather cycle threatens to wreak more economic havoc and disrupt raw material production across a wide swath of the world, evoking memories of the killer edition of 1998.

The timing could not be worse. This El Nino appears to be developing as the world is struggling to emerge from the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Eleven years ago, a damaging El Nino occurred in the middle of the Asian financial crisis which roiled financial markets.

“El Nino is a little bit like recession: you are in it before you can say you have one. If it continues as it is now, the historians will say the El Nino started in May,” said David Jones, head of climate analysis in Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Jones said they could declare an El Nino in weeks.

During El Nino, an abnormal warming of the waters of the equatorial Pacific unhinges weather patterns in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. A La Nina weather pattern, in which waters cool, was in place last year.

In 1998, El Nino-related storms, floods, tornadoes and mudslides killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage to crops, infrastructure and mines.

Michelle L’Heureux, head of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center which tracks El Nino, said this version may not approach the one in 1998, the strongest weather anomaly in 150 years. The CPC is an office under the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

If the anomaly does recur with severity, drought in Asia could lift grain prices, which are already near historic levels due to supply shortages, while storms that would disrupt crude production in the Gulf of Mexico may be minimized.

Mike Palmerino, U.S. agricultural meteorologist with DTN Meteorlogix, added: “This one has a little more going for it. But a year ago at this time it looked like we were building toward an El Nino and everything just totally fell apart toward the end of the summer, where all the Pacific circulation patterns changed and we actually slipped back into a La Nina.”

COMMODITIES WEATHER WATCH

Some forecasters fret that an early sign of this El Nino is the weak annual monsoon plaguing India, one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of everything from sugar to soybeans.

The monsoon rains are the lifeblood for farmers in India. Its faltering sugar crop is a prime reason why sugar prices are at their highest levels in three years.

China typically turns to South America for soybeans during the U.S. growing season. But the 2009 crops from Brazil and Argentina are suffering from drought and U.S. soybean stocks are at a 32-year low — less than two weeks of normal commercial supply.

Shawn McCambridge, grains analyst with Prudential Bache Commodities in Chicago, said the El Nino could “dry out the second half of 2009 in Australia and it can also affect South American production.

“It’s developing a little too late to really have much of an impact on the Northern Hemisphere, but the concern would be in the Southern Hemisphere (crops),” he said.

Indonesia, one of the biggest producers of palm oil and a large consumer of sugar and rice, faces drought.

Australia is one of the world’s biggest wheat producers and has barely recovered from the worst drought in 100 years which hit a few years ago.

Rob Imray, general manager of grain trading and agricultural risk management firm Farmarco, said the Australian wheat crop is off to a good start but the southern areas could suffer if no rain arrives in August and September.

EFFECT ON METALS?

Severe floods may disrupt mining operations in Chile, the world’s biggest copper producer, and Peru, among others.

India is the world’s biggest gold buyer when farmers, whose annual income is tied to the monsoon, buy the metal for the festival of lights celebrating the end of their harvest in November.

Still, Andrew Montano, a director at bullion dealer ScotiaMocatta in Toronto, said, “the bulk of the demand is coming from international investors, more so than from the Indian subcontinent.”

In the United States, El Nino could funnel wind shear into the Atlantic basin and hinder storm formation during the annual hurricane season.

Vernon Kousky, former head of the CPC, said there could “be a suppression of Atlantic hurricane activity, provided that further intensification of El Nino occurs during the next couple of months.”

A strong El Nino could lead to a mild winter in the Northeast, the world’s biggest heating-oil market. The snow pack in the Western United States may also suffer and affect hydroelectric power generation.

But Stephen Schork, editor of The Schork Report in Pennsylvania, said the weak economy would mute the weather phenomenon’s impact on energy markets.

“There’s just a lot of supply out there,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Bruce Hextall and Michael Perry in Sydney, Frank Tang and Rebekah Kebede in New York, Christine Stebbins in Chicago, and Naveen Thukral in Singapore)

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Late checks on Indonesia poll lists ahead of vote

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Abdul Hafiz Anshary (C), the head of the General Election Commission (KPU), poses with presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla (2nd L) and his running mate Wiranto (L), and presidential candidate Megawati Sukarnoputri (2nd R) and her running mate Prabowo Subianto (R) after their meeting in Jakarta July 6, 2009.

Late checks on Indonesia poll lists ahead of vote

JAKARTA (Reuters) – The two challengers for Indonesia’s presidency started cross-checking electoral rolls on the eve of polling on Tuesday, after lodging complaints that the sprawling country’s voter lists were riddled with irregularities.

Opinion polls have consistently shown that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will trounce his rivals, winning a second term and a chance to quicken the pace of reform in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

The objections to the voting process, led by Yudhoyono’s challengers, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, are not expected to derail the election.

However, analysts said the complaints could be a tactic aimed at fanning public doubt about the credibility of the process and pave the way for the losing contestants to challenge the result.

Security was stepped up in the capital, Jakarta, and other parts of the country on Tuesday because of fears that wrangling over the credibility of the register of some 176.3 million voters could spark protests in the world’s third-largest democracy.

“People should not be confused, and this should not make the world view what is happening in our country as abnormal,” Yudhoyono told reporters late on Monday, urging his rivals not to act improperly ahead of the vote.

A victory for Yudhoyono would most likely bring a renewed push for reform to attract foreign investment, create jobs and drive economic, which has slowed from 6.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to come in at between 3 and 4 percent this year.

If he wins the first round with more than half the votes, on the back of his modest success in tackling graft and the best economic performance in a decade, stocks, bonds and the rupiah are likely to surge on hopes of a more ambitious reform plan in his next five-year term and beyond.

However, the atmosphere was tense in Papua, where extra police and special forces were on standby after recent violence linked to separatists in the remote province.

Papuans wearing traditional penis gourds looked on as booths were set up using traditional woven bags instead of ballot boxes.

A victory for Yudhoyono would most likely bring a renewed push for reform to attract foreign investment, create jobs and drive economic, which has slowed from 6.1 percent in 2008 and is expected to come in at between 3 and 4 percent this year.

“We hope to be able to see a continuation of the reforms that we already started,” Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told Reuters in an interview, adding that the new government would need to send “a strong signal that we are moving in the right direction”.

If Yudhoyono takes more than half of the votes in the vote there will be no need for a run-off with the runner-up. A clear picture of the result should emerge by around 2 p.m. (0700 GMT).

Analysts say a victory for Yudhoyono, widely known as “SBY”, would come on the back of his modest success in tackling graft and the best economic performance in a decade.

Stocks, bonds and the rupiah have rallied this year on the prospect of a Yudhoyono win, and analysts see them rising further on hopes for a heftier reform drive in his next five-year term.

The rupiah , the best-performing currency in Asia so far in 2009, eased 0.3 percent against the dollar in afternoon trade on Tuesday. Indonesian stocks, which are up 50 percent so far this year, were up about 1 percent

Indonesian sovereign bond prices have also rallied in the last few months, with yields set to fall further if foreign investors return after the presidential election, traders said.

Concern over the voting lists arose first in the run-up to a parliamentary election in April, when duplicate and fictitious names were found on rolls and some voters were not registered.

Tension over the issue was partly defused on Monday when key demands made by Kalla and Megawati were met, including their request to receive copies of the electoral rolls.

Indicating that Yudhoyono’s opponents were backing away from earlier suggestions they could ask for the poll to be postponed, Megawati on Tuesday urged her supporters to go out and vote.

But her running-mate, Prabowo Subianto, said he still believed there were a minimum of 10 million names with problems.

“We expect it could be potentially as many as 20 million names,” the former general told a news conference.

An economist at the Danareksa Institute played down the prospect of violence over the list dispute.

“I think the losing parties will complain but I don’t think they will challenge in a serious way,” said Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa.

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China says 140 dead in Xinjiang riot,blames separatists

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Chinese soldiers sit in the back of a truck near the main square in the centre of Urumqi in Xinjiang Autonomous Region July 6, 2009.

China says 140 dead in Xinjiang riot,blames separatists

URUMQI, China (Reuters) – At least 140 people have been killed in rioting in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, with the government blaming exiled separatists for the traditionally Muslim area’s worst case of unrest in years.

Hundreds of people have been arrested, the official Xinhua news agency said, after protestors from the Uighur minority took to the streets of the regional capital on Sunday, burning and smashing vehicles and shops, and clashing with anti-riot police.

“In terms of China’s domestic economy, it is in a remote place and it does not have a big impact on things generally unless there is some evidence, of which there is none, that the government is in some meaningful way losing control,” said Arthur Kroeber, Managing Director of Dragonomics, a research and advisory firm in Beijing.

Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China and in both places the government has sought to maintain its grip by controlling religious and cultural life while promising economic growth and prosperity.

But minorities have long complained that Han Chinese have reaped most of the benefits from official subsidies, while making locals feel like outsiders in their own homes.

No figures have been given on the ethnic identity of the dead but a senior security official said that many of the bodies he saw were Han Chinese, suggesting an explosion of pent-up anger against the economically dominant group.

“It was like a war zone here, with many bodies of ethnic Han people lying on the road,” Xinhua quoted Huang Yabo, deputy director of the Urumqi Public Security Bureau saying.

By late Monday order was restored. Anti-riot police patrolled clean, quiet streets, a reminder of the strength of the Chinese state in an area which has long had a heavy security presence.

But if the violence triggers scrutiny of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang or if officials launch a harsh crackdown, China’s standing as a global power may take a hit, analysts say.

“This will bring a negative impact on China’s image as a responsible power. Coercion alone will not solve the problem. If you use coercion alone it will worsen the problem,” said Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly voiced regret for the 140 dead and urged all sides to show restraint but said Washington did not know what sparked the violence.

“We’re afraid this figure could increase, and of course we deeply regret the loss of life,” Kelly told reporters.

He said the violence came up during talks in Washington between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell but offered no details. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton briefly dropped by that meeting, he added.

China’s markets largely brushed off the riots, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite index ending up 1.2 percent at a 13-month closing high, bucking a generally weaker trend in the rest of Asia.

“This is regional unrest only,” said Zheshang Securities analyst Zhang Yanbing.

OVERSEAS FORCES BLAMED

The death toll from the riot in Urumqi, 3,270 km west of Beijing, was 140 on Monday and expected to rise further, with over 800 people injured, Xinhua quoted Xinjiang police chief Liu Yaohua saying.

Signalling a crackdown in the strategic region near Pakistan and central Asia, another senior Chinese government official said the unrest was the work of extremist forces abroad.

“This was a crime of violence that was pre-meditated and organised,” Xinhua quoted the unnamed official as saying.

He blamed the violence on the World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman now in exile in the United States after years in jail, and accused of separatist activities. She did not answer calls for comment.

But exiled Uighur groups adamantly rejected the Chinese government claim of a plot. They said the riot was an outpouring of pent-up anger over government policies and Han Chinese economic dominance.

The riot followed a protest about government handling of a June clash between Han Chinese and Uighurs in Southern China, where two Uighurs died, after a false allegation that six Uighurs had gang-raped a Han Chinese woman.

Almost half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people are Uighurs, but the population of Urumqi is mostly Han Chinese.

“These incidents reflect the complete failure of government policies in ethnic minority areas, although there is no justification for the violence,” said Nicholas Bequelin at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong.

“People who go out to demonstrate on the streets of Urumqi know that the retribution will be terrible. For people to go out and do that when they know the consequences is a sign that they are desperate to find an outlet for their grievances.”

Chinese state television showed injured and bloody civilians, who mostly appeared to be Han Chinese, rioters throwing rocks at police and overturning a police car and images of the charred shell of a bus.

“I personally saw several Han people being stabbed. Many people on buses were scared witless,” Zhang Wanxin, a Urumqi resident, said by telephone.

Admissions at the People’s Hospitals, one of the biggest in Urumqi, also suggested Han Chinese were targeted.

Xinhua said the hospital received 291 people of whom 17 died later. Among them 233 were Han Chinese, 39 were Uighurs, while the rest were from other ethnic minorities.

Police have rounded up “several hundred” who participated in the violence, including more than 10 key players who fanned unrest, Xinhua said, and are searching for 90 others.

Residents in Urumqi were unable to access the Internet on Monday, several said. “The city is basically under martial law,” Yang Jin, a dried fruit merchant, said by telephone.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley, Emma Graham-Harrison, Yu Le and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing; Ben Blanchard in Shanghai and Arshad Mohammed in Washington)

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