Apr 11 - 17, 2005







The leaders of Britain's main opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats wasted no time hitting the campaign trail last Tuesday as Prime Minister Tony Blair called a general election for May 5.
After lying low since Saturday out of respect for the late Pope John Paul II, Tory chief Michael Howard and the Lib Dems' Charles Kennedy came out swinging against Mr Blair and his Labour Party.



"Beware yet another election where Mr Blair says one thing to get your vote on polling day and does something quite different afterwards," Mr Howard told a crowd of supporters in central London.

"Mr Blair is already secretly grinning at the prospect of his third victory," he said. "Well, you don't have to settle for that.... There is a better way." In Newcastle upon Tyne, north east England, Mr Kennedy whose wife expects to give birth to their first child midway through the campaign said the Lib Dems would address the hopes of the British people, and not their fears.

"For a country like ours with so much going on, a fairly prosperous society, a fairly stable society, a society and a country that by international standards measures up well, we are going to be positive, we are going to be ambitious about our country and what we have to offer our country," he said.

"So I am not going to spend these next few weeks talking Britain down. I am going to be addressing people's hopes, not playing on people's fears. That is going to be the positive message from the Liberal Democrats." Labour wants to focus the campaign on its strong economic record.


A fresh row over China's textile trade is brewing over Europe's response to growing Chinese clothing imports.

A new "early warning system" instituted by Brussels to start an investigation of imports if they breach set levels has provoked Beijing's ire.

The proposal "seriously violated" World Trade Organisation rules, China said.

Fears are growing about China's strength in textiles following the end of quotas after a 30-year agreement was abolished at the beginning of 2005.

Europe's system was in fact intended to avoid inflaming China.

Announced by Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, they fall some way short of those demanded by the EU's textile manufacturers.

The European trade fears it could be swamped in the wake of the demise of the Multi Fibre Agreement.

But Mr Mandelson said that with only two months of data, caution was required.

He will start an investigation if China exceeds permitted increases of between 10% and 100% for various categories of textile imports this year.

China was unhappy, with a Commerce Ministry spokesman warning that the rules would "exert an extremely negative impact not only on the textile trade between China and Europe, but also on global textile trade".

The US has taken a harder line and has begun a probe at the behest of its own clothing industry, who say they have already seen a 1,000% rise in goods from China.

WTO rules allow for countries which say they have suffered "market disruption" from Chinese imports to limit textile import growth to 7.5% a year till 2008.


UK businesses are set to prosper during the next few months but this could trigger more interest rate rises, according to a report.

Optimism is at its highest since 1997 and business will reap the benefits of a continuing rise in public spending, say researchers at BDO Stoy Hayward.

The BDO optimism index a leading indicator of GDP growth two quarters ahead edged up in January to 102.5, from 102.2 in October.

The rise is due, in part, to an increase in public spending and increased merger and acquisition activity.

Its BDO's output index which predicts GDP movements a quarter in advance remained at 100.8 for January, implying GDP growth at 2.9% in the second quarter of 2005.


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has unveiled a plan to bring electricity to every village in the country by 2009.

The scheme aims to bring power to the remaining 56% of rural homes 78m houses that have never had the benefits of electricity.

Mr Singh said India had taken "far too long a time to bring the light and energy that electrification provides".

He called it "one of the most important promises we are committed to".

Mr Singh said: "The electrification of rural India is a key foundation stone in the modernisation of our agriculture and in improving the quality of life of our citizens.

"We cannot delay the implementation of this basic commitment any longer. We shall honour it this time in full measure."


A free trade agreement between the world's second largest economy and its eighth largest has come into effect.

Japan signed the agreement with Mexico last year after two and a half years of tough negotiations.

In the past, Japan has been reluctant to sign free trade agreements because of pressure from its inefficient farming sector.

But the government now believes it must open up the economy if it is to compete with China for influence in the region.

From Friday, Japan's 9,000 pig farmers will experience something entirely new competition.

Under the terms of a landmark free trade agreement with Mexico, pork will be subject to much lower tariffs along with a range of other products. In fact, more than 90% of Mexican products will have their tariffs cut altogether.




Millions mass for the funeral of Pope John Paul II held at St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Political and religious leaders from around the world attending the Mass.

Giant video screens are dotted around the city for the millions of other pilgrims who have flocked to the Italian capital.

Roman Catholics around the world follow the funeral on television and attended Masses in their local churches.

The three-hour ceremony conducted by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, which will begin electing the Pope's successor on 18 April.

The service began with the Pope's wooden coffin being carried out of St Peter's and placed on the stone steps of the basilica by members of the Pope's household staff.

Among those attended are US President George W Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who leads the world's largest Catholic country.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei are also took part.


A 40m support package has been put in place for firms that supply MG Rover, the UK trade secretary has said.

The announcement was made as MG Rover's 6,000 workers wait to find out if the stricken UK car maker can survive.

The firm called in advisers amid reports it was on the verge of collapse after talks with a possible Chinese investor broke down.

With parts suppliers pulling credit and production stopped, industry analysts say its demise may be inevitable.


Oil prices dropped below $54 a barrel lasy Friday as worries about stockpiles eased, but warnings that the world is in for sustained high prices persisted.

But at the same time, the International Monetary Fund warned high oil prices were a "permanent shock" to the world.

In its six-monthly World Economic Outlook, IMF senior economist Raghuram Rajan said oil was set to stay at $39-56 a barrel in today's money for much of the next 25 years.

Before adjusting for inflation, that meant a headline price of $67-96 as demand from China and the rest of the developing world continued to soar on the back of improving living standards.

China could need 18.7 million barrels a day by 2030, up from the current 6.4 million, the IMF said.

World demand was likely to grow to 138.5 million barrels from 82.4 million, with demand for oil from producers' cartel Opec set to more than double.


The European Central Bank held its key rates steady at the historically low level of 2.0 per cent for the 22nd month in a row last Thursday as the economic gloom over the 12-country euro zone deepened following recent disappointing data.

The ECB, which has now left its key "refi" refinancing rate unchanged at 2.00 per cent since June 2003, also held its other two key rates - the deposit rate and the marginal lending rate steady at 1.00 per cent and 3.00 per cent respectively. The ECB's decision came just 45 minutes after the Bank of England also announced it was holding its own rates unchanged at 4.75 per cent for the eighth month on a row.


US telephone operator MCI has rejected a $9.1bn (4.8bn) takeover offer from telecoms firm Qwest.

The rebuff, the latest twist in a two-month takeover fight, reaffirms MCI's preference for a lower $7.6bn bid from rival operator Verizon. MCI emerged from the ruins of bankrupt telecoms operator Worldcom last year.


South African mining giant Gold Fields has won a court order to force 30,000 striking employees back to work.

Johannesburg's Labour Court ruled that the industrial action was "unlawful and unprotected," the company said.

About 50,000 South African miners have walked out in a dispute over pay, including living allowances, and planned redundancies.


Australia's central bank has decided to keep the country's benchmark interest rate on hold at 5.5%.

The Reserve Bank of Australia's decision follows a quarter percentage point rise last month.

The bank increased interest rates to their highest level in four years in March, despite data showing weak growth in the Australian economy.

The Sydney-based central bank said last month it was raising rates in an attempt to curb inflation.


Seven of the 10 wealthiest billionaires living in Britain come from overseas, according to this year's Sunday Times Rich List.

Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal comes out on top with a fortune estimated by the newspaper at 14.8bn.

Roman Abramovich drops to second place, but the Russian oil tycoon and Chelsea football club owner is reckoned to be worth 7.5bn.

The Rich List says the pair are among 40 billionaires living in Britain.

That is the biggest number yet recorded.

The combined wealth of the top 10 on the list is 52.55bn 10bn more than the top 200 a decade ago.

It is also the highest wealth total yet recorded and represents a 23.3% rise on last year.


House prices rose by 0.5% in March, according to the Halifax, reversing the 0.5% fall seen in February.

However, annual price inflation continued to slow, dropping to 9.7% in March the first time it had slipped below 10% since November 2001.

The figures contrast with Nationwide's March figures, which showed a 0.6% fall the largest in almost 10 years.


Big UK businesses lost more than 2.4bn to hi-tech crime in 2004, the UK's top technology police force says.

According to a survey for the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), almost nine out of 10 firms suffered some kind of IT-based crime last year.


Japan's government is to press ahead with the sell-off of the multi-trillion dollar postal savings system.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has signed off on a programme starting in 2007 and lasting a decade.

The plan has been watered down in the hope of calming ardent opposition from his own MPs, who fear mass lay-offs.

The system's 350 trillion yen ($3.2 trillion; 1.7 trillion) in assets have provided a source of spare cash for politicians' pet projects.