Jan 03 - 09, 2005






United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said the scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster demands an unprecedented world response.
He said the international community had reacted well to the wave aftermath but long-term commitment was required.
The World Bank, individual countries and citizens have pledged $500m in aid.
The death toll from Sunday's disaster is continuing to rise as relief workers reach more remote areas. More than 123,000 people are now confirmed dead.



Thousands of people remain unaccounted for after the 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake off Sumatra sent a wall of water smashing into coastlines as far away as east Africa.

Aid agencies have been struggling to provide relief to the region.

The World Health Organization says as many as five million people are at risk, with little water, food or shelter.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet Mr Annan before setting off on a visit to tsunami-hit areas.

Mr Annan said after a meeting in New York with UN officials that the entire UN family was ready to help people rebuild their lives.

But he said there was an enormous strain on the UN, its staff and resources, and the disaster was so huge that no single country or agency could cope alone.

"This is an unprecedented global catastrophe and it requires an unprecedented global response," he said.

"But we must also remain committed for the longer term. We know that the impact will be felt for a long time to come."

The World Bank has announced it is giving $250m to help victims while the UK increased its contribution to $96m, the biggest donation from an individual country.


South Korea will boost state spending next year in an effort to create jobs and kick start its sputtering economy.

It has earmarked 100 trillion won ($96bn) for the first six months of 2005, 60% of its total annual budget.

The government's main problems are "slumping consumption and a contraction in the construction industry".

It aims to create 400,000 jobs and will focus on infrastructure and home building, as well as providing public firms with money to hire new workers.

The government has set an economic growth rate target of 5% for next year and hinted that would be in danger unless it took action.

"Internal and external economic conditions are likely to remain unfavourable in 2005," the Finance and Economy Ministry said in a statement.

It blamed "continuing uncertainties such as fluctuating oil prices and foreign exchange rates and stagnant domestic demand that has shown few signs of a quick rebound".

In 2004, growth will be between 4.7% and 4.8%, the ministry said.

Not everyone is convinced the plan will work.

"Our primary worry centres on the what we believe is the government's overly optimistic view that its front loading of the budget will be enough to turn the economy around," consultancy 4Cast said in a report.

The problem facing South Korea is that many consumers are reeling from the effects of a credit bubble that only recently burst.

Millions of South Koreans are defaulting on their credit card bills, and the country's biggest card lender has been hovering on the verge of bankruptcy for months.

As part of its spending plans, the government said it will ask firms to "roll over mortgage loans that come due in the first half of 2005" .


Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has offered China wide-ranging access to the country's oil reserves.

The offer, made as part of a trade deal between the two countries, will allow China to operate oil fields in Venezuela and invest in new refineries.

Venezuela has also offered to supply 120,000 barrels of fuel oil a month to China.

Venezuela the world's fifth largest oil exporter sells about 60% of its output to the United States.

Mr Chavez's administration, which has a strained relationship with the US, is trying to diversify sales to reduce its dependence on its largest export market.

China's quick-growing economy's need for oil has contributed to record-high oil prices this year, along with political unrest in the Middle East and supply bottlenecks. Oil prices are finishing the year roughly 30% higher than they were in January 2004.


Thailand has become the first of the 10 southern Asian nations battered by giant waves at the weekend to cut its economic forecast.

Thailand's economy is now expected to grow by 5.7% in 2005, rather than 6% as forecast before tsunamis hit six tourist provinces.

The full economic costs of the disaster remain unclear.

The International Monetary Fund said it was too early to say if the disaster would affect the global economy.

The Thai downgrade is small in percentage terms compared with an anticipated 4% fall in the economic output of the Maldives and a 2% fall in the economic output of Sri Lanka, Standard Chartered Bank estimated.

The IMF has said that although the tragedy would be "enormous" to the countries affected, the financial markets have remained relatively calm in the wake of the tsunami tragedy.


Britain is leading the global drive to raise money for the victims of the Asian tsunami, with public donations of up to 1m an hour pouring in.

The total of public pledges now tops 25m and the government has raised its donation from 15m to 50m, responding to public calls to be more generous.

Now religious leaders are joining the effort, with a plea for aid due to be made in mosques, churches and temples.

The death toll is already at 123,000, with 29 Britons confirmed dead.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group for leading charities, said it had been "overwhelmed" by the response to TV and radio appeals. The total raised by the public stood at 25m and rising.

Donations are flooding in at a rate as much as 15,000 a minute, with celebrities among those helping to man the phones.


The US dollar has hit a new record low against the euro and analysts predict that more declines are likely in 2005.

Disappointing economic reports dented the currency, which had been rallying after European policy makers said they were worried about the euro's strength.

Earlier on Thursday, the Japanese yen touched its lowest versus the euro on concerns about economic growth in Asia.

The dollar slid to a record $1.3666 versus the euro on Thursday December 30, before bouncing back to $1.3636. Against the yen the dollar was trading down at $103.05.

The yen, meanwhile, dropped to 141.60 per euro in afternoon trading. It later strengthened to 140.55.


China's state-owned oil company CNPC may get a 20% stake in Yukos' former oil production unit, Russia's Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko has said.

Yuganskneftegas was sold for $9.4bn to state oil firm Rosneft a week ago to help pay off Yukos' massive tax bill.

Mr Khristenko said that Yuganskneftegas would function as a separate entity and would not be part of a planned merger between Rosneft and Gazprom.

China's demand for oil has helped send oil prices to record highs this year.

Russia may buy CNPC's assets in third countries as well as in China as part of deal, said Mr Khristenko in a statement.


The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has given the green light to a huge restructuring of Argentina's debt.

Argentina, which defaulted in 2001, has offered to swap about $102bn of unpaid bonds for up to $41.8bn in new debt.

One-third of these new bonds will be sold in New York, with the rest going to European and Argentine markets.

Pending approval from European financial regulators, the scheme should go ahead on 17 January.


The price of zinc has hit a seven-year high, driven up by runaway demand from China, which has become a net importer.

China consumes about one-fifth of the world's zinc, and analysts estimate the demand will rise 11-18% in 2005.

London Metal Exchange zinc futures have reached $1,255.50 a tonne a price not seen since November 1997.

Chinese growth has persuaded analysts that zinc, whose price has lagged other base metals this year, is likely to outperform them in 2005.




Japanese shares have ended the year at their highest level since 13 July amidst hopes of an economic recovery during 2005.

The Nikkei index of leading shares gained 7.6% during the year to close at 11,488.76 points.

In 2005 it "will rise toward 13,000", predicted Morgan Stanley equity strategist Naoki Kamiyama.

The optimism in the financial markets contrast sharply with pessimism in the Japanese business community.


South Korea has agreed to a gradual increase in rice import quotas from 4% to 8% of total consumption.

In return, nine rice exporting countries keen to enter the market will accept that it will not be fully opened for another 10 years.

"[This] will allow us time to strengthen our rice growing industry and prepare for market opening," said Agriculture Minister Huh Sang-Man.

Rice farmers fear cheap rice imports will drive them out of business.

But the country has no real choice. Under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, the country must ease its rice import restrictions after having signed an agreement a decade ago.


One of America's largest fast-food chains is offering its customers a helping hand in fulfilling their New Year's resolutions.

Devotees of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken are to be offered free gym membership in January.

Parent company Yum Brands says anyone visiting these outlets next month will get a four-week health club membership.


Continental Airlines has become the first major airline in the US to order the Boeing 7E7 medium-sized jet.

Continental chief executive Gordon Bethune said the $1.3bn order for 10 planes makes it "an important part of our international growth strategy".

The 7E7, which will fly into business in 2008, is central to Boeing's aim to beat its European competitor Airbus.


More bargain hunters were out at the sales after the Christmas holiday in the UK this year compared to 2003.

Those shopping at post-Christmas sales between 26 and 28 December rose 2.1% said retail information group Footfall.

Many leading firms in the important retail sector depend on shifting large amounts of stock in the sales.


Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia has given the go ahead for the construction of a $1.2bn oil pipeline that will pass through the Balkan peninsula.

The project aims to allow alternative ports for the shipping of Russian and Caspian oil, that normally goes through the Bosphorus straits.

It aims to transport 750,000 daily barrels of oil.

The pipeline will be built by the US-registered Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO).

The pipeline will run for nearly 900 kilometres from the Bulgarian port of Burgas, over the Black Sea to the Albanian city of Vlore on the Adriatic coast, crossing Macedonia.


Japan's Honda has won a copyright case in Beijing, further evidence that China is taking a tougher line on protecting intellectual property rights.

A court ruled that Chongqing Lifan Industry Group must stop selling Honda brand motorbikes and said it must pay 1.47m yuan ($177,600) in compensation.

Internationally recognized regulation is now a key part of China's plans for developing its economy, analysts said.


Trade figures for shopping on Boxing Day have revealed a poor start to the post-Christmas sales.

Boxing Day custom was down by 16.1% compared to 2003, according to retail analysts Footfall.

Up to 40% of major High Street stores opened their doors on Sunday as bargain hunters braved the icy conditions. Last year the sales began on a Friday.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has predicted shoppers will spend more than 5bn in the days after Christmas.

Tim Denison, director of knowledge management at retail analysts SPSL, told BBC Radio Five Live: "The figures are quite subdued for the start of the sales this year.