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In Unprecedented Move, Canada Withdraws from Kyoto Protocol December 15, 2011


December 14, 2011

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In Unprecedented Move, Canada Withdraws from Kyoto Protocol 14 Dec 2011 Barely 24 hours after it signed a new global climate change agreement in Durban, South Africa, Canada became on Monday the first country to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty to reduce emissions causing climate change. The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) concluded last Sunday with an agreement called the Durban Platform, which includes a consensus agreement for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol after the first expires at the end of 2012. Canada’s government under Stephen Harper essentially agreed to a continuation of Kyoto only to announce formal withdrawal after Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent arrived back safely in Canada on Monday.

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Canada pulls out of Kyoto accord December 13, 2011


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Environment Minister Peter Kent: ”Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution for climate change”

Canada will formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the minister of the environment has said.

Peter Kent said the protocol “does not represent a way forward for Canada” and the country would face crippling fines for failing to meet its targets.

The move, which is legal and was expected, makes it the first nation to pull out of the global treaty.

The protocol, initially adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is aimed at fighting global warming.

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past, and as such we are invoking our legal right to withdraw from Kyoto,” Mr Kent said in Toronto.

He said he would be formally advising the United Nations of his country’s intention to pull out.

‘Impediment’

He said the cost of meeting Canada’s obligations under Kyoto would cost $13.6bn (10.3bn euros; £8.7bn): “That’s $1,600 from every Canadian family – that’s the Kyoto cost to Canadians, that was the legacy of an incompetent Liberal government”.

He said that despite this cost, greenhouse emissions would continue to rise as two of the world’s largest polluters – the US and China – were not covered by the Kyoto agreement.

“We believe that a new agreement that will allow us to generate jobs and economic growth represents the way forward,” he said.

Mr Kent’s announcement came just hours after a last-minute deal on climate change was agreed in Durban.

“The Kyoto Protocol is a dated document, it is actually considered by many as an impediment to the move forward but there was good will demonstrated in Durban, the agreement that we ended up with provides the basis for an agreement by 2015.”

He said that though the text of the Durban agreement “provides a loophole for China and India”, it represents “the way forward”.

Canada’s previous Liberal government signed the accord but Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government never embraced it.

Canada declared four years ago that it did not intend to meet its existing Kyoto Protocol commitments and its annual emissions have risen by about once third since 1990.

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Durban climate conference agrees deal to do a deal – now comes the hard part December 12, 2011


At the Durban climate talks, negotiators agreed to start work on a new climate deal that would have full legal force. Link to this video

The Durban climate conference may have agreed a deal – or at least a deal to agree a deal – but the scale of the work that still needs to be done became plain today.

Although talks are supposed to start immediately, America’s special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, infuriated the EU by warning that much preparatory work had to be done before the negotiators could sit down to haggle.

“[In drawing up] the Kyoto protocol, there was a period of a year to year and a half of scoping out so I expect that will go on … for a year or two,” Stern said. “Then you still have two to two and a half years to negotiate, and finish in 2015.” EU officials are acutely aware that the time to forge a deal is short, and the issues to be resolved vastly complex.

The Durban conference ended on Sunday with a last-ditch deal whereby developed and developing countries will for the first time work on an agreement that should be legally binding on all parties, to be written by 2015 and to come into force after 2020.

But while the UN and most of the countries present hailed the deal as a breakthrough, getting an agreement that all countries sign up to will be intensely complicated. “Many political agreements put off the difficult actions for the next regime and that appears to be the reality for the Durban platform,” said David Symons, director of environmental consultancy WSP. “No one should underestimate the difficulty of arriving at a legal agreement between the developed and developing countries, let alone one that for the first time includes China, India, Europe and America.

“The Durban platform provides an anodyne set of words, with much of the detail yet to be agreed and the teeth not really coming for eight years. The real challenge will be in agreeing the fine print.”

Jonathan Grant of consultancy PwC said the scale of the task was daunting, as G20 countries would need to cut their carbon intensity (the amount of CO2 released as a proportion of energy produced) by 5% a year to 2050. France’s vast nuclear power programme of the 1980s delivered a 4% per year cut for 10 years, he said, while the closure of dirty East German factories after reunification delivered 3% a year, and the UK’s “dash for gas” to replace coal-fired power stations in the 1990s only produced cuts of 3% a year for a decade.

The timetable is significant, particularly in relation to the US electoral cycle. Striking a deal at Durban was crucial, because by next year’s conference there could be another president, and none of the Republican candidates would have signed up to the Durban platform.

An incoming Republican would have to make a public renunciation of the climate talks in order to get out of the 2015 deadline. If Barack Obama wins another term, however, in 2015 he will be facing the final year of his presidency. That may spur him to try to ensure a global climate agreement is part of his legacy.

Any new agreement will come down to targets – how far each country will have to cut its emissions. The motivation to increase ambitions could come from several sources, said Michael Jacobs of the London School of Economics, including people power. “By 2015 the world’s young people in particular can be expected to demand greater action as the evidence of future damage becomes clear. I think this will be bigger than Copenhagen.” He also cites the ambition of China’s next five-year plan, due in 2015, and demands from investors for stronger, clearer policies as important.

Grant suggests Britons will have a simpler motivation: “It will be people’s wallets. If energy bills continue to rise as they have, people will eventually start to manage their demand much more efficiently than now. People are left a bit cold by the climate negotiations but energy bills impact them directly.”

The magic number is two – a temperature rise of 2C above pre-industrial levels is estimated to be the limit beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible. In order to have even a 50:50 chance of staying within that limit, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculates that emissions must peak by 2020 at the latest and fall rapidly thereafter. Carbon output must be roughly halved by mid-century, compared with 1990.

In 2014 the IPCC will produce its fifth assessment report. The overwhelming majority of climate research shows the situation is growing more serious, with increasing evidence that human activity is harming the climate and a clearer picture of what the consequences will be. This may mean the IPCC strengthens its advice on cutting greenhouse gases, which would mean governments could have to raise their targets even further.

If life were simple, it might be possible to work out a formula for dividing up the cuts needed among the countries, according to emissions per head of population, perhaps also taking into account emissions per unit of economic output.

That sort of thinking will not work in these talks, which have been running for 20 years. One key issue is historic emissions – industrialised countries started burning fossil fuels earlier and so bear responsibility for most of the CO2 already in the atmosphere. Balancing that, some countries have worked harder to reduce emissions than others – the EU, for instance, has, while China has invested heavily in renewables in recent years, and Japan has one of the most energy-efficient economies on the planet – so they will all want credit for these actions. Then there are the differing capabilities of each country – for instance, those with large forests provide a valuable service in absorbing carbon and want this to be taken into account, while others’ geographical or economic circumstances afford less opportunity to use low-carbon power. Japan is a case in point: having pledged to phase out nuclear power, it will be hard-pressed to find enough renewable alternatives.

Just how difficult it will be to resolve these issues was apparent in Durban. India’s environment minister made an impassioned speech in the final hours in which she insisted that equity – taking into account developing countries’ economic capabilities, large populations still to be lifted out of poverty, and low responsibility for historic emissions – must be the foundation of the negotiations. She said: “Equity is the centrepiece, it cannot be shifted. This is not about India. Does fighting climate change mean we have to give up on equity?”

China’s minister Xie Zhenhua backed her up strongly.

The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2020 China’s emissions per head will be equal to or higher than the EU’s. That will make it difficult for China to base its argument for easier targets on its large population. The vast quantities of carbon being poured into the atmosphere also mean historic emissions are less relevant – by the 2030s total emissions from developing countries in the past century could be greater than the total emissions from developed countries, apart from the US. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA, said: “These are big changes for China – these figures make a very significant difference.”

To further complicate matters, Stern told the conference that “there are other ways of getting to two degrees”.

He did not elaborate, but there are scientifically backed means of slowing global warming by tackling other forms of pollution, such as black carbon and HFCs, both of which have warming effects. If these actions are brought into the talks it would imply that the overall emissions cuts required are less.

Money will also be a factor. Developing countries have been promised $100bn a year by 2020, from rich countries and the private sector, in order to help them move to a green economy and cope with the effects of climate change. But it is unclear where these massive sums would come from.

In the aftermath of the talks some officials were jubilant that the UN process had been vindicated. For years, the question of whether countries needed to sign a legally binding international treaty or could simply make national commitments that could later be changed – so-called “pledge and review” – has been one of the most contentious issues.

At Durban, those arguing for a legally binding outcome won. “This is the end of pledge and review,” said one senior diplomat from a developed nation.

The problem is the UN process continues to be fragile. The debates in the next few years will be stormy, and there is no guarantee that there will be an outcome that will produce the emissions reductions needed.

But at least in Durban countries showed they can, sometimes, amid high emotions and frayed tempers, still work together.

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Durban talks: how Connie Hedegaard got countries to agree on climate deal December 11, 2011

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, has been hailed the hero of the Durban meeting that reached an unexpectedly solid outcome in the early hours of Sunday .

“She is very, very good and we are very lucky to have her,” says Chris Huhne, the UK energy and climate change secretary. “She held everything together in a very impressive manner – a class act.”

Hedegaard, below, once the youngest person elected to the Danish parliament, was the architect of the EU plan to gather developed and developing economies together for the first time in a legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A deal was struck that met nearly all of the EU’s aims, satisfied most developing countries and even brought the US on board.

In doing so, Hedegaard saved the UN process of negotiations, which without a deal at Durban would have fallen apart. Hedegaard’s manoeuvring also forced China to acknowledge that it will take on commitments on an equal legal footing to developed countries.

“You could hear the shifting of tectonic plates,” said one diplomat. “This is hugely important not just for the climate talks but in geopolitical terms.”

Key to her success was the hardline attitude Hedegaard adopted. Developing countries, including China, have long insisted that the 1997 Kyoto protocol should be extended when its current targets run out in 2012. EU member states are virtually the only countries willing to do so. But while some member states wanted to offer the extension as a matter of course, Hedegaard had other ideas – it would only be agreed if developing countries also signed up to her roadmap.

That would entail committing to curb emissions on the same legally binding footing as the rich world, as an acknowledgement that the distinctions between developed and emerging economies have changed since 1997, when the Kyoto protocol was drawn up. This also made it possible for the US to join in, because America had insisted it will only join up to any agreement on the basis of such legal parity.Hedegaard knows about negotiations failing – as Denmark’s environment minister since 2004, she was the host and president of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

There she witnessed, excruciatingly, at firsthand the embarrassment of the EU at the hands of the US and the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China — when President Obama took his counterparts behind the scenes to forge a deal on emissions that left out the EU. European and UN officials were left visibly flummoxed as Obama announced his deal to the media. That deal was instantly denounced as weak, because countries had not agreed that it was legally enforceable, and the summit ended in scenes of chaos and acrimony.

Durban was Hedegaard’s chance to raise a new phoenix from the ashes of the Copenhagen conflagration. And she was determined to do so.

At stake was the whole process of United Nations climate negotiations. The Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 by all countries, including the US. But the Clinton administration was unable to put it put before Congress because opposition to it was so strong. Since then, the UN talks have been in trouble. Without the active participation of the US – now the second biggest emitter – they could not succeed.

Hedegaard’s roadmap was crafted in the back offices of the European commission, and she embarked on private meetings with ministers in big and small countries. In October, she had it rubber-stamped by the EU member states.

Despite the battering she received in the conference – from Indian and Chinese ministers, who attacked the EU for trying to strongarm them — she held her nerve. Up to the last moment, negotiators for other countries were briefing that the EU would cave in, and concede that an agreement was not possible. But in the final minutes, the EU agreed a phrase that it said would ensure future commitments were binding. – they would take the form of “an agreed outcome with legal force”.

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Durban Climate Talks Produce Imperfect Deals

Negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa have approved a package of agreements to combat global climate change.

While the deal is a step forward, observers say more should have been accomplished.

After hours of political wrangling and compromise on all sides, delegates emerged from an all-night session Sunday with a way forward on climate change.

Going into the last-minute negotiations, the South African president of the conference, Maite Nkoana Mashabane told delegates the package of deals would not please everyone.

“I think we all realize they’re not perfect, but we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good and the possible,” he said.

Among the biggest achievements was the approval of a European Union plan to negotiate a future legal deal to combat climate change.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard lobbied fiercely for the so-called EU “roadmap,” saying, “We are on the brink, it is within our reach to get what the world is waiting for and what only few thought would happen now: a legally binding deal,” said Hedegaard.

The agreement calls for parties to end negotiations on a future pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and to implement the new regime no later than 2020.

Emotions ran high in the middle-of-the-night plenary session about plans for the future agreement.

Karl Hood of Grenada, representing a coalition of small island states took issue with the language in the draft text, which did not specify what legal form the agreement would take.

“And if there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions then, Madame Chair, I’m saying that we are relegating vulnerable economies to the whims and fancies of beautiful words like ‘self-determination’ like ‘access to development’; while they develop, we die in the process,” said Hood.

The future deal will replace the Kyoto Protocol – an existing legal framework that was enacted in 2007 and was due to expire next year.

Governments that are part of Kyoto, including the EU, agreed in Durban to a second commitment period to the protocol that will last five to eight years, though Russia, Japan and Canada have said they will not take part.

The conference did not produce any immediate promises to further cut emissions blamed for climate change.

Tim Gore, the climate policy advisor for Oxfam, said developing countries will not benefit much from the deals passed here in Durban.

“They didn’t get a great deal out of this, I think this was largely an agreement which was struck between the big boys, between the U.S., the European Union, perhaps some of the emergency economies did a deal on a future legal agreement, and that’s significant, but it hasn’t necessarily delivered the action that the very poorest countries, and the poorest people within them, need here and now,” said Gore.

Parties also agreed in Durban to put into operation a Green Climate Fund, which is to provide assistance to developing nations for environmental projects.  However, there was no agreement on how to actually finance the Fund, so, for the time being it remains an empty shell.

Some of these issues will likely be addressed again at the U.N. climate conference next year in Qatar.

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Deal in Doubt as Durban Talks Wind Down December 10, 2011

Time is running out for a major deal to tackle climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in South Africa, and observers say the world’s biggest emitters are continuing to hold up progress on a new agreement to cut emissions.

Delegates at COP17 are continuing to work on details of a European Union proposal toward a new global commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The so-called EU “roadmap” would set a deadline for a new deal to be agreed to by 2015 and to be implemented by 2020.

With few hours left to negotiate, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said compromises must be reached.

“If there is no further movement from what I have seen until four o’clock this morning, then I must say I don’t think there will be a deal in Durban,” said Hedegaard.

But, she added, all hope is not lost.

“Now it’s not the first time in a COP that [by] Thursday night you’d not have the deal,” she said. “So that is why I emphasize there still is time to move and I must say there have been a lot of constructive talks.”

The European Union issued a joint statement with a grouping of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Association of Small Island States, supporting the European roadmap and calling for more ambitious action from other countries.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said development and similar statements from other countries are encouraging, but that more ambition is needed.

“Everything seems possible today, but it’s not done. We have a lot more work to get done,” he said. “But it’s on the table [and] we’ve seen movement. The developments I talked about with the small island state coalition and the LDCs and the movements from South Africa and Brazil are encouraging, but without the U.S., China and India, they’re not enough.”

The EU has indicated that the world’s three biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, have been slowing down the pace of negotiations on a roadmap to a future agreement.

Hedegaard said the major sticking points are what legal form the final agreement would take and whether there will be a two-track arrangement so that some countries are legally bound while others commit to voluntary emissions cuts.

Other negotiations are continuing on a proposal to provide $100 billion in long-term financing to developing nations for environmental projects. So far delegates have only begun sorting out the terms of the deal, with no reported progress on how to actually finance it.

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Most EU Countries Accept New Fiscal Deal

Most members of the European Union agreed to a new deal Friday that is intended to address debt problems that have threatened the common euro currency and driven Europe into an economic crisis. The agreement increases EU supervision of government budgets of member nations.

France and Germany pushed hard for the deal.

After tough negotiations in Brussels, all 17 European Union members that use the euro, and some other EU nations, agreed to the plan.

That pleased German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I am very pleased with the results of yesterday’s talks – this is not a foreign compromise for the sake of the Euro. Across the world, people will see that we’ve learned from mistakes made in the past,” said Merkel.

EU leaders hope financial markets will be reassured by the plan’s long-term solution to the eurozone government debt crisis. Greece, Portugal and Ireland have already received international bailouts because of their debt, and some analysts feared even greater needs from Spain and Italy.

EU leaders also agreed to give the International Monetary Fund another $260 billion for programs to keep the current crisis from spreading.

But Britain rejected the deal. It is the strongest of the EU nations that do not use the euro and a major financial center. A proposed tax on financial transactions was one of several issues that raised concerns for British Prime Minister David Cameron.  

“What is on offer isn’t in Britain’s interests and I didn’t agree to it,” said Cameron.

Stock markets and the value of the euro rose Friday after the deal was announced.

Economists were split about whether the deal would do enough to prevent future fiscal crises and solve the current problems.

In Frankfurt, Germany, Chris Zwermann, of Zwermann Financial, said it may be just as well that Britain did not agree to the deal.  

“We get the possibility to make decisions for the Euro countries, which means 17 countries without any influence from other countries who don’t belong into this area,” said Zwermann.

Deutsche Bank’s Stefan Schneider welcomes the agreement to enforce deficit limits.

“Because otherwise, you know, something, ‘just let’s pull the check book and write a check’ – I think that ultimately would cause a serious problem in terms of democracy,” said Schneider.

The deal needs final ratification by member countries, and could be signed by March.

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EU Divided on New Deal to Save Eurozone December 9, 2011

Stock markets and the value the euro currency rose after most members of the European Union agreed to a new deal Friday, increasing their economic ties to save the struggling eurozone. But reaction is mixed about the agreement, cobbled together after marathon talks among European leaders in Brussels.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi reacted positively to the agreement for stronger fiscal ties and better control over government budgets.

“It’s a very good outcome for the euro area, very good. It’s quite close to a good fiscal compact, and certainly it’s going to be the basis for a much more disciplined economic policy for euro-area members, and certainly it’s going to be helpful in the present situation,” Draghi said.

Twenty-three of the EU’s 27 members have agreed to the pact, championed by economic heavyweights France and Germany to make sure Europe’s sovereign debt and banking crisis doesn’t happen again.  That includes all 17 members of the embattled eurozone. But at a final press conference on Friday, European Union president Herman von Rumpoy said three more countries are considering joining – which would leave Britain as the single holdout.

“Our preference went to a full-fledged treaty change with the 27, changing the treaties of the Eurpean Union. We tried it, but because there was not a unanimous decision, we have to take another decision,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the deal as a success.  She said those who opted to create a new fiscal union chose a future of more solidarity and economic coherence which will make the euro currency more secure.

EU members adhering to the new treaty must commit to keeping their deficits below 0.5 percent of their economic output – or risk sanctions.  The pact is expected to be signed by March. European leaders also agreed on other measures to stop the eurozone crisis from spreading – like giving the International Monetary Fund another $260 billion to bolster financial firewalls.

But Simon Tilford, chief economist of the London-based Center for European Reform, says the new treaty does nothing to resolve to resolve Europe’s debt crisis.

“The problem is that fiscal austerity will not solve this crisis – at least not alone,” Tilford said. “Fiscal austerity has in many ways been part of the crisis. Enforcing unending austerity on the countries in the periphery has already made their predicaments much worse and threatens to make a bad situation in Spain and Italy already worse than it currently is.”

Other analysts fear the deal weakens European unity – with one group of countries part of the new pact and another out of it.  British Prime Minister David Cameron defended his decision to reject the treaty – and offered another vision of Europe.

“We’re not in the euro, and I’m glad we’re not in the euro,” Cameron said. “So i think the idea of Europe being more of a network – you choose those organizations you join, you choose those organizations you don’t join – is actually a way in which Britain can get what we want and what we need in Europe.”

Analyst Tilford says whether Britain and others will be weaker for opting out of the fiscal pact depends on what happens to the eurozone.

“If the eurozone does master this crisis and holds together, we’re likely to see increased integration within participating countries within the eurozone, and Britain will become progressively marginalized within the EU,” Tilford said.

But if the eurozone crisis drags on and the euro area fractures, he says, that’s another story. And Tilford sees nothing in the new pact EU leaders agreed on that makes him optimistic about the euro’s future.

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Europe Central Bank Lowers Rates

The European Central Bank lowered its benchmark interest rate Thursday to a record 1.0 percent. The move by the bank to help stimulate Europe’s economy came as France and Germany urged other European leaders to adopt their eurozone crisis plan at a key summit in Brussels.

Just hours before the start of the European Union summit, French and German leaders were in the southern French city of Marseilles, making a final pitch to overhaul key European treaties.

In an address to fellow European conservatives, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the 17-nation euro currency union needed more solidarity, more discipline and more governance. The longer European leaders wait to make a decision, he said, the costlier and less efficient it will be.

Mr. Sarkozy and his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, will be making that argument during the two-day summit in Brussels. Analysts say their plan may take years to be implemented – while the eurozone crisis needs immediate solutions. But the pair argues Europe’s very foundations must be changed to save the currency union.

Mr. Sarkozy said EU leaders need to re-found and rethink Europe. If not, the same causes will produce the same effects.  

There are already indications that some EU members – notably Britain – are skeptical about their proposals. But in Marseilles, Chancellor Merkel said that France and Germany want all 27 EU states to adopt their plan.

“I’m sure that we need all 17 members of the eurozone, that we demonstrate that we are willing to be open…and that we will be able to move forward if we are all in agreement – i.e., all 27 members of the European Union,” Merkel said.

The two leaders do have a “plan B.” If all 27 members do not accept their plan, they will push the 17 eurozone members to adopt it.

The eurozone debt crisis and fears of a looming recession prompted the European Central Bank (ECB) to announce Thursday it is cutting its benchmark interest rate by a quarter-percent for the second month in a row. At a press conference in Frankfurt, the ECB’s new chief, Mario Draghi, also signaled the bank was expanding emergency funding to cash-strapped banks.

“A number of factors seem to be dampening the growth momentum in the euro area,” said Draghi. “They include a moderation in the pace of global demand growth, and unfavorable effects on overall financing conditions and on confidence resulting from ongoing tensions in euro-area sovereign debt markets as well as process of balance-sheet adjustments in financial and non-financial areas.”

While Draghi predicted a better economic forecast next year, ratings agency Standard Poor’s dumped more bad news on Europe – warning on Wednesday it might cut the credit rating of the European Union and that of top European banks. It has already warned it might downgrade the ratings of 15 eurozone countries.

In an interview on French radio, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker – who also heads the euro group of countries – expressed surprise at the SP move.

Asked if he was optimistic the EU leaders could reach agreement during their summit, Mr. Junker was blunt. The leaders, he said, have to reach an agreement.

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European Debt Crisis Summit Starts

European leaders have started a two-day summit in Brussels in the latest effort to resolve the continent’s debt crisis and save the euro.

Some officials have described the European summit as a moment of reckoning for the common currency, under siege by Europe’s burgeoning debt crisis.  But before the meeting opened Thursday night, there remained a divergence of opinion on exactly how to resolve the two-year debt contagion that threatens the stability of the world economy.

U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters in Washington that Europe is prosperous enough to resolve the debt crisis if its leaders have the political will to act.

“Europe is wealthy enough that there is no reason why they can’t solve this problem,” said President Obama. “It is not as if we are talking about some impoverished country that doesn’t have any resources and is being buffeted by the world markets and they need to come hat in hand and get help.  This is Europe with some of the wealthiest countries on earth, collectively one of the largest markets on earth, if not the largest.”

The economy in the 17-nation bloc that uses the euro has all but stalled, with some analysts saying it has already dipped into a recession. The European Central Bank took a modest step ahead of the summit to boost lending, trimming its prime interest rate a quarter percentage point to one percent, the second cut in two months.

But stocks slid on European and U.S. exchanges after the bank’s president, Mario Draghi, dampened speculation that the central bank would increase its purchase of the debt of European governments as one way to cut their borrowing costs. A European regulator said the continent’s banks need to raise nearly $154 billion to cover possible losses on government securities they hold.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are calling for the eurozone nations to curb excessive spending and impose strict penalties on violators.  Their plan would also create a unified corporate tax rate and a new financial transaction tax.

President Sarkozy said an agreement is essential.

“Everyone can understand that if on Friday we don’t find an agreement, there is no second chance,” said President Sarkozy. “I call for the spirit of compromise and speedy decision making.”

Before heading to Brussels, the German and French leaders tried to rally support for their plan during a meeting of the center-right European People’s Party in the French city of Marseilles. Senior officials said late Wednesday that final agreement may not be reached at the summit.  

One German official told the Associated Press that it might be Christmas (December 25) before a deal is reached.  Another senior official was quoted as saying that some countries “have not understood the seriousness of the situation.

Fears that Europe’s debt crisis could spark additional problems have sent jitters through the global financial markets and have prompted warnings from several top credit rating agencies.

Britain, which has its own currency, the pound, has indicated that it may not be willing to sign on to new EU treaty provisions.  Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier this week that he will defend Britain’s financial interests at the summit.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Durban climate talks see US back EU proposal December 8, 2011

The prospects of a last-minute deal on climate change have emerged at the UN talks in Durban, as the US threw its weight behind the European Union’s proposal for a roadmap towards a new global agreement.

All eyes are now on China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, which has yet to back the proposal, and according to some insiders has been giving conflicting signals.

Other big developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa have said they are willing to discuss the proposed programme, though India has rejected it.

With only a day and a half of negotiating time left to run, the words of support from the US on Thursday came as a surprise to the conference. Todd Stern, US special envoy for climate change, told a press conference: “The EU has called for a roadmap. We support that.”

According to the proposal, negotiations should begin soon on a potential new global agreement by which all the world’s major emitters – both developed and developing countries – would make commitments to cut emissions, starting from 2020. Although the EU wants to set a firm date of 2015 for signing up to such an agreement, the US is reluctant to agree to specific dates yet but wants negotiations to start “promptly”.

Connie Hedegaard, Europe‘s climate commissioner, said: “It is very encouraging that the EU’s roadmap is the focus of the intense negotiations here in Durban.”

The EU also wants that new agreement to be legally binding at a global level – that is, a full international treaty – but the US has not agreed to that, though it left the door open. Stern said: “If we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for – the EU has called for, that the US supports – for preparing for and negotiating a future regime, whether it ends up being legally binding or not, we don’t know yet, but we are strongly committed to a promptly starting process to move forward on that.”

US officials insisted that Stern’s position had not changed, as he has consistently said he would be open to discussions that could lead to a new accord that could be legally binding, or not. But until now he had not expressed clear support and had avoided the word “roadmap”, a term the US tends to dislike because it implies a fixed route and destination.

The US also insists that the agreement be equally legally binding on all major emitters – that is, if the US and the EU take on legal commitments, so must China. It is still far from certain that China will acquiesce, though its head of delegation told journalists in the week that China was willing to sign up to “a legal document”.

Chris Huhne, the climate change secretary, said: “The key point is that if China sees a way to making a big step forward in living up to its international responsibilities then I think we will see similar commitments right the way across key players, including the US.”

Other countries at the talks are also swinging behind the EU plan, with the Alliance of Small Island States broadly in favour but with important reservations, and many African countries behind it.

Among developed countries, Japan has said it also wants negotiations on a new legally binding treaty to begin, though it has not indicated a firm timeline. Australia said it would sign up if major emitters did, while Canada, however, may still hold out.

In return for support for a treaty to begin to “bite” in 2020, the EU is offering to extend the Kyoto protocol – the only existing global legally binding treaty stipulating emissions cuts – beyond the current commitment period which ends in 2012. It is the only major rich country bloc to do so.

The issue of whether an agreement is legally binding is a crucial one at the talks. Many countries are saying that any agreement take the form of a fully articulated international treaty because they fear that some will otherwisse renege on their commitments.

The EU has pegged 2020 as the “latest” start date for any new climate agreement, because most of the world’s countries – including all the biggest emitters, both developed and developing – already have national commitments running to 2020, under deals struck in Copenhagen in 2009 and last year in Cancún.

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Seeing REDD: Forest Program May Be Only Success of Climate Talks

The headlines from the COP17 U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa have mostly underscored the deadlock on major initiatives.  But there has been progress on a forestry program known as REDD+. If an agreement on the program is reached it could be one of the few success stories to emerge.

The acronym stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

The basic theory behind the strategy is forests should be worth more when they are standing then when they are cut down.

To accomplish this goal, the REDD mechanism provides a financial value for the carbon stored in the trees.  Developed countries can then invest in standing forests in developing countries to offset their own carbon emissions.

“If you can pay local communities, provide incentives, government programs for local communities to be able to keep the forests standing and still make a good livelihood off the land, but in a way that does not require them to cut the trees down, then you have a win for biodiversity, you have a win for those local communities, and you have a win for the climate,” said Rane Cortez, a REDD+ advisor for the environmental group The Nature Conservancy, who works on a REDD project in Brazil.

The Nature Conservancy began working on REDD projects in the early 1990s in Latin America.  Other projects have also cropped up in Asia and Africa.  These projects are all based on bilateral or multilateral agreements between governments and donors, and the terms of each project vary case-by-case.

But delegates at the last U.N. climate conference in Cancun, Mexico agreed to universalize the system, establishing international safeguards and accountability measures.

Nature Conservancy climate change managing director Sarene Marshall says REDD+ is one of the few things delegates at COP17 can agree on.

“There has really been near unanimity on the issue, generally speaking,” said Marshall. “Countries ranging from rainforest nations to developed countries have seen how important it is to address the forest side of emissions and to protect forests for their climate benefits and other things.”

But the program is not without its detractors.  A group that says it represents indigenous people around the world protested this week outside the Durban conference center, calling for a moratorium on REDD.

Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth says you cannot put a price on trees and earth and to create a market for nature.

“The very concept, from the indigenous perspective, it is a violation of the sacred,” said Goldtooth. “What kind of people involve themselves in trading air?  How do we even translate that from the deepest of our heart, to be trading air as property?”

Among the safeguards included in the draft text establishing REDD+ are protections for indigenous people.

But members of the group do not think they can trust the governments to fairly implement the programs. Kimaiyo Towett is from the Ogiek community in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

“These governments are the ones that are negotiating REDD, they are already the ones preparing the proposals, negotiating with the World Bank, sending the proposal, receiving the money,” said Towett. “It is the very same government now which will get a proper excuse for removing us from the forest to pave way for this program.”

REDD+ remains an experiment. Even with an agreement, the architects of the program will meet regularly to adjust the terms of the program.

And while it may not be perfect, progress on REDD+ may be the biggest achievement of COP17.

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Violence Flares as Damascus ‘Positive’ Towards Observers December 6, 2011

Syria said Monday it has responded “positively” to an Arab League demand to let league observers into the country. Meanwhile, activists in the central city of Homs say militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad kidnapped and killed 34 civilians Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said circumstances of their deaths were not immediately clear but activists and residents in several districts reported a spate of kidnappings in anti-Assad neighborhoods since Sunday.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters that Syria has informed the Arab League that it will agree to the observer plan with conditions.

He says Syria requests the agreement be signed in Damascus and that Syria’s suspension from the league and proposed sanctions be cancelled once the agreement is signed.

But analysts are wary of Syria’s intentions.

Khattar Abou Diab, a political scientist at the University of Paris, says Damascus has been playing a lengthy game of “cat-and-mouse” with the Arab League.

He says that Syria has been creating one delay after another, offering to sign one minute, then not to sign the next minute, before imposing new conditions. He says that Syria’s condition that the accord be signed in Damascus looks like yet another delay tactic.

The Arab League’s proposed sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes on top Syrian leaders and a ban on flights to Damascus. Arab ministers agreed Saturday in Qatar to impose sanctions on 19 Syrian officials, including key members of President Assad’s family.

Despite Damascus’ positive reaction to the Arab observers’ plan, government troops continued their offensive in many parts of the country.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdelrahman told VOA Monday that security forces shot dead five civilians in Homs.  Another person was killed near Daraa, while a man shot by security forces days ago died of his wounds Monday in the village of Talbisa.

The rights group also saysthat army defectors killed three security force members and one police officer in Dael, near the southern flashpoint of Daraa.

The violence comes after at least 35 people were killed Sunday, mostly in Homs province, during attacks on residents of protest hubs and in fighting with army defectors.

Meanwhile, Tayssir Zoghbi, a top Syrian customs official, announced that a free trade agreement with neighboring Turkey was being suspended as Turkey has taken a hardline stance towards the Syrian government.

He says that the free trade zone between Turkey and Syria is being suspended and that Damascus is imposing a 30 percent customs duty on goods coming from Turkey.

Turkish leaders recently called on President Assad to resign and have upped the pressure on Damascus by vowing strict economic sanctions.

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EU Claims Progress on Climate ‘Roadmap’ at Durban December 2, 2011

As the first week of negotiations at the U.N. climate change conference  in South Africa comes to a close, the European Union says support is growing for a new legally-binding agreement to cut emissions.  But the United States and other countries remain strongly opposed to the idea.

EU negotiators are urging other parties at the COP17 climate talks in Durban to agree to a “roadmap” that would lead to a climate treaty that would legally bind governments to cut emissions blamed for climate change.

The Polish head of the EU delegation, Tomasz Chruszczow, said there is growing support for such a measure.

“Many parties see that the goal of keeping the global warming within the limits, within two degrees, requires urgent action,” said Chruszczow.” And extreme weather events on the ground and that warning contained in the recent spate of reports from international institutions and organizations made it very hard to escape this kind of conclusion.”

The EU proposal would follow the current legal framework established under the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire next year. The EU wants  the parties at COP17 to agree to establish a new treaty by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020.

Recent reports support the EU’s argument that further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, are necessary to keep global temperatures from increasing to dangerous levels.

The International Energy Agency has warned that the world has about five years left to significantly cut carbon emissions in order to prevent irreversible climate change.

The European Union is trying to convince developing countries to sign on to such an agreement.

EU negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger noted the EU’s success with the current program, saying the EU’s emissions have dropped below 1990 levels while overall, the continent’s economy has continued to grow.

“Because a lot of fear that is in this process is about ‘I can either fight climate change or I can grow my economy,’ but we can show, and that’s a big example here, that we can do both at the same time,” he said.

The United States did not adopt the Kyoto Protocol, and U.S. climate negotiators have said they will not support a legal mandate to cut emissions without knowing the details of such an agreement.

Commenting on the EU’s proposed roadmap, U.S. deputy climate change envoy Jonathan Pershing said it would have to bind all parties equally.

“We’re not looking for a mechanism in which we would have an obligation to reduce emissions of a legal form and the major emerging economies would have a voluntary program,” said Pershing. “That’s kind of the Kyoto structure.  We are not a party to Kyoto, in no small measure, because of that constraint.”

The United States has argued that the voluntary emissions reductions that governments agreed to at the last climate conference in Cancun, Mexico are unlikely to change over the coming years.

The U.S. has been trying to start discussions, instead, on what can be done after 2020.

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Tentative NBA deal reached; season expected to start on Christmas November 26, 2011

(CNN) — NBA players and owners have reached a tentative deal to end the league’s months-long lockout and begin play Christmas Day, though details of the agreement have not been released.

“We’ve reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals … we’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin on December 25 — Christmas Day — a tripleheader,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said Saturday. He did not detail who would play in the tripleheader, but said it’s expected that 66 games will be played this season.

Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association, acknowledged the patience of NBA fans during the 149-day lockout.

“Our fans and the support from the people and (their) patience through a large part of this process — that’s where a lot of this credit goes to, Fisher said. “The efforts that have been made have been largely with them in mind.”

But more work lies ahead.

“What we have to do is obviously sit down with the litigants because it has to be solved in the context of litigation,” Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said in an early morning press conference with Stern.

Hunter declined to discuss specifics of the deal, including the proposed revenue split, but said he and others plan to meet with lawyers later Saturday. He estimated a resolution could come in three days to a week.

Stern said he expects the labor relations committee and board of governors to endorse the tentative pact and that a collective bargaining agreement would arise from it. Training camps would open December 9.

The NBA had canceled games through December 15.

Team owners locked out players in early July as the two sides tried to hammer out a new agreement. Stern has said the previous season was not profitable for most of the league’s 30 owners, who were seeking a bigger share of league revenues.

A previous lockout in the NBA lasted 204 days, from July 1998 to January 1999, before a new collective bargaining agreement was reached by both sides. That agreement expired in June, sparking the latest developments.

After playing a round of hoops at Fort McNair in Washington on Saturday, President Barack Obama seemed to approve the tentative deal.

When asked about the potential agreement, Obama gave a thumbs-up and said, “Good deal!”

A longtime basketball fan, Obama is slated to host the “First Ever Obama Classic” on December 12, a fundraiser featuring current and former NBA players. Some big names have already signed up, including Boston Celtics’ guard Ray Allen and New York Knicks’ forward Carmelo Anthony.


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NBA reach new deal to end lockout

The Dallas Mavericks will be hoping to defend their NBA title

NBA commissioner David Stern says a “tentative understanding” has been reached to end the five-month lockout.

The start to the new season had been delayed owing to negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement between the league and players’ association.

After a 15-hour meeting between parties on Friday, an end now looks in sight with the possibility of the NBA season beginning on Christmas Day.

“We’re optimistic that the NBA season will begin on December 25,” Stern said.

Several issues became the cause of the lockout, with team owners insisting on a 50-50 split revenue share, while players had proposed a 52.5% share. No details of the new agreement have yet been released.

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Barring a change in scheduling, the 2011-12 season will open with the Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, followed by Miami at Dallas in an NBA finals rematch before MVP Derrick Rose and Chicago close the tripleheader against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

In the previous collective bargaining deal that expired in June, players were guaranteed 57%.

The new agreement, which could see a triple-header of fixtures on Christmas Day with a shorter season of 66 games, is yet to be ratified but Stern added: “We’ve reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations, but we’re optimistic that will all come to pass.

“We’re very pleased that we’ve come this far, there’s still a lot of work to be done with a lot of committees, player groups and the like but we’re optimistic that it will hold and we’ll have ourselves an NBA season.”

Players’ union executive director Billy Hunter said: “We’re happy that we’ve been able to reach a tentative litigation settlement with regard to many issues that are pending before the various courts.

“We’re going to turn it all over to the lawyers and have them work out all the details and we’ll be able to then talk with you (the media) further as the process proceeds.”

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Britain unites with smaller countries to block US bid to legalise cluster bombs

A coalition of countries including Britain on Friday defeated an attempt by the US, Russia, China and Israel to get an international agreement approving the continued use of cluster bombs. The weapons, which have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon scatter “bomblets” over a wide area, maiming and killing civilians, notably children, long after they have been dropped and are banned under a 2008 convention which was adopted by the UK and in more than 100 countries. The US, refused to sign and in negotiations in Geneva, over the past two weeks pressed for a protocol to be added to a UN convention to provide legal cover for the continuing use of cluster munitions. But smaller countries, supported by agencies including Amnesty and Oxfam, refused to give way.

Thomas Nash, director of Article 36, a group which coordinated opposition to cluster munitions, said: “The rejection of this attempt to set up a weaker standard on cluster bombs shows that states can act on the basis of humanitarian imperatives and can prevail in the face of cynical pressure from other states”.

He added: “It shows that it is not only the US and other so called major powers that call the shots in international affairs, but that when small and medium sized countries work together with civil society and international organisations we can set the agenda and get results”.

The US was supported in the Geneva talks by other cluster bomb manufacturers – including Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan.

They were backed by countries which had signed the 2008 convention, including France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Australia, conference observers said.

The Foreign Office had said that the British government would not accept the proposed protocol unless it provided clear humanitarian benefits.

The US and its supporters argued that their proposal would allow the use of cluster bombs manufactured after 1980 and that these had a less than 1% failure rate. Opponents said that most bombs produced before 1980 are unusable and that modern cluster munitions have failure rates much higher than the manufacturers claim.

If the US bid had been approved, international legal cover would have been given to such weapons as the BLU-97 “combined effects” bomb which contains bomblets that, as they fall, fragment and can turn into an incendiary weapon.

The unexploded bomblets have the appearance of yellow drink containers and are attractive, often picked up by children who mistake them for toys. However, the consequences are lethal, often resulting in maiming or even fatalities.

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Arab League Warns Syria Could Face Sanctions November 24, 2011

Arab League foreign ministers have given Syria until Friday to sign an agreement allowing observers into the country.

League officials said Thursday representatives will meet again on Saturday to discuss sanctions if Damascus refuses to comply with their demand.

The regional group is considering further measures if Syria’s government continues its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters.

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Syrian demonstrators chant anti-Syria slogans outside a hotel in Cairo, where an Arab League meeting is held to discuss the situation in Syria, November 24, 2011

The Arab League, angered that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to fulfill a pledge to bring an end to the violence and pull Syrian forces out of major cities, suspended Syria’s membership two weeks ago.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has suggested that the international community create what he called “”a humanitarian corridor” in Syria, sending in international monitors to ensure the safety of civilians.

Juppe said he would seek Arab League support for the measure and also discuss it with the United States and international partners at the United Nations.

The United Nations says at least 3,500 people have been killed in connection with the Syrian revolt since March. Syria blames much of the violence on foreign-backed terrorists and religious extremists.

Neighboring Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said Thursday the situation in Syria is “irreversible,” adding that Assad seems to be approaching his end as Syria’s leader.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Burma Ethnic Rebels Cautious About Government Peace Offer

Burma’s military-backed government has offered a possible path to peace with ethnic rebel groups who have long fought against central authorities for autonomy. A peace agreement is a key demand of Western nations, including the United States, for improving relations with Burma. Although some people are encouraged by the offer, not all rebel groups are convinced it is genuine.

The government’s new peace offer was disclosed Saturday when an envoy of Burmese President Thein Sein discussed the three-part deal with rebel representatives. The offer calls for a cease-fire, followed by development assistance and then a national conference to discuss political grievances.

This is the first time that central government authorities have offered to hold political discussions with the rebel groups.  Those who attended the talks say three of the five rebel delegates welcomed the offer.

Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News, was invited to the meeting as an unpaid advisor for the Shan State Army South. He says the Shan, the Karen National Union, and Chin National Front agreed to the offer, in principal.

“They expect it to be sort of like the Panlong conference in 1947, where they can talk about full autonomy in their own internal affairs, human rights and democracy, of course,” he said.

The 1947 Panlong conference was launched by democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, and three ethnic groups to reach independence from Britain.

The Panlong Agreement also resulted in a broad outline for autonomy for the ethnic regions.

But Aung San’s assassination later that year, the government’s failure to implement the spirit of the agreement, and military rule fueled ethnic rebel uprisings.

Since then, those ongoing rebellions have been cited by the Burmese government as the reason for having a strong military. Burma’s army has dominated the country for more than half a century.

David Steinberg, a Burma  analyst at Georgetown  University in Washington D.C., says the fair distribution of power among ethnic groups is the most serious problem facing the country since independence.

“They’re not doing enough to address that. They’ve rescinded something at least for the moment,” he said. “They had this plan for border guard forces, which would integrate the minority armies into the Burma army and basically emasculate them in terms of their ability to revolt against the government. But because of such resistance the new government has shelved that plan.”

Despite continued fighting, the nominally civilian government that took office in March, after decades of overt military rule, promised peace talks.

But President Thein Sein, himself a former general, told journalists at a press briefing Saturday that negotiations have been difficult.

He says, because the ethnic minorities have different cultures, different traditions and different goals it is impossible to reach agreement when they hold talks.  He says they have tried before and failed.   He says they talk with them individually and try to find common ground. He says the talks are based on the principles that the rebels accept not to break away from the union and to accept the major guidelines in the 2008 constitution.

The two rebel groups at the talks that did not agree to the government’s terms are the Karenni National Progressive Party and the Kachin Independence Organization.

The KIO and government troops have been fighting pitched battles this year in northern Kachin State.

La Ja, a spokesman for the group, says they are not yet ready to accept the offer. He says this is just an initial meeting and there is no reason to decide whether to accept the government offers.  He says, if the government wants further discussion, they will have the discussion. He says they cannot say anything conclusive at this point because of the whole situation, including the ongoing fighting.

For the three rebel groups that agreed to the plan, Shan advisor Khuensai Jaiyen says one of the main reasons was the government’s engagement with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi – who he referred to using the honorific “Daw.”

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been working quite closely with the present government, especially with the president,” he said. “If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi trusts the present government enough, maybe they can also.”

President Thein Sein has held direct talks with Aung San Suu Kyi who is set to re-enter politics after 15 years of house arrest.

Khuensai says, nonetheless, the rebel groups are still cautious. He says they understand there are risks in dealing with the government, but that they are risks worth taking.

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Egypt to Form New Government, Military to Transfer Power November 23, 2011

Egypt’s military rulers have agreed to form a new government and promise to transfer power to a civilian body by July.

Politicians say the agreement was made during a crisis meeting on Tuesday as tens of thousands of Egyptians protested in the streets against continuing military rule.  They say negotiators also agreed to start holding parliamentary elections on November 28, as scheduled, with a goal of holding a presidential election before the end of June 2012.

Word of the agreement was met with scattered displeasure in the crowd that packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square. There are continued calls among protesters to see military rule end immediately.

The demonstrations are getting larger, and the calls for the military to step down now – not next year – louder.  Tuesday’s crowd is the biggest to mass in Tahrir Square since the unrest began four days ago.  Men, women, young and old, are united in their demand that civilian rule begin now.

“As you can see, not just one type of Egyptian here. All the Egyptian here: Islamic, liberal or communist. Everyone is here. Egyptian and Muslims and Christians. Everyone is here,” one protester said.

Some believe the momentum of the unrest, sparked by a proposal that the military rulers prolong their political influence, will speak for itself.

“A lot of the candidates for president or political parties, they are invited for a meeting today to interview the military council.  But they didn’t hear [from] the people  We want the military to leave.  It’s over.  No one can speak on behalf of the Egyptian people right now,” said another protester.

With suspicions high about self-declared representatives of the people, the crowd is turning increasingly angry, not just at the bloodshed, but at fears about what – and who – comes next.

Japhet Weeks’ report from Tahrir Square:

Editor and political analyst Rania el Malki says the unity of purpose seen among protesters back in January has been destroyed.

“People are very much aware of their differences and different attitudes and I think no, unfortunately this kind of solidarity is gone.  And over the past nine months I think SCAF has managed to fragment the political street beyond cure,” Elmalki said.

Many are keen that elections, set to begin next Monday, will be one way forward.  But not everyone on Tahrir Square is looking toward a democratic solution.

One man sitting in the square pointed with pride to the wounds he had suffered.

“After I take this, and this and this and other places in my body, I feel free.  I hope to be killed here, to find Allah.  That’s all,” said one protester.

Another protester is quick to point out such fundamentalist beliefs are “not [his] Islam.”  He accuses extremists, in particular their politically savvy leaders, of trying to hijack the new protests. “They are now trying to show up, to show the world that they are leading the people and they are against something in the government.  They are not.”

But with the SCAF in command, it would appear that to meet protesters’ demands they need someone to hand power to, something made more difficult now that the interim civilian leaders are resigning. But editor el Malki doesn’t hold out much hope for the army leadership’s attempts at engaging the opposition.  

“They are thinking with the mentality of the old Egypt.  The military rulers, the generals are still Mubarak’s people and they are behaving towards the Egyptian people as if they are the end all and be all of decisions. They are engaging in a political monologue, that they’re refusing to listen to any other version of how the process of the transition to democracy an be managed,”  Elmaki said.

But even if the standoff continues, most on Tahrir square say they want to go ahead with elections and get the representation – whatever it may be – they desperately want.

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