UN appeals for almost 40 million to assist flood victims in Nicaragua

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said $22.8 million is needed to provide emergency life-saving relief for an estimated 162,000 people affected by the hurricane, while an extra $16.3 million is required for early recovery programmes over the next six months.Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said he hoped international donors would respond generously to the appeal.“As the longer-term economic impact is also bound to be grave, their assistance will prove crucial in the recovery effort that follows,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.The world body is drawing from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to kick-start the appeal, which is focused on helping the people of Nicaragua’s North Autonomous Region on the Atlantic Coast, the region hit hardest by Felix.Almost 8,000 houses, 6,000 latrines and 5,000 wells were damaged or completely destroyed as the winds of the category-five hurricane, which made landfall on 4 September, reached 270 kilometres per hour. So far the death toll is 67, with another 110 people recorded as missing.OCHA said the appeal calls for help with food aid, nutrition, shelter, health, water and sanitation, education, telecommunications, security, logistics and protection. Medicines and emergency health kits are seen as priorities, as well as ensuring water quality and maintaining disease control. For the next three months, UN agencies expect to carry out general food distribution within the affected communities in the North Autonomous Region on the Atlantic Coast, which is a predominantly poor and relatively inaccessible region, and at the evacuation centres. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also likely to help affected communities and households rebuild their infrastructure.This is the 11th “flash appeal” to be issued by OCHA this year, which eclipses the previous record of 10 set in 2005. Aside from last month’s appeal to help earthquake survivors in Peru, the appeals have followed climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes, drought and floods. 14 September 2007United Nations humanitarian agencies today appealed for more than $39 million to help Nicaraguans deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Felix, which left a deadly trail of destruction when it struck the Central American country earlier this month. read more

Students teachers schools face deliberate attacks in conflict areas – UNESCO

The study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) catalogues a range of assaults on education: pupils taken hostage, targeted by bombs or abducted to work as child soldiers; teachers assassinated in school; the blasting of schools with shells and rockets or their use as military bases; and teacher trade unionists unaccountably disappearing. Principal author Brendan O’Malley, briefing reporters in New York, offered stark statistics on the problem, saying that 280 academics have been killed in Iraq between the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and April this year “in a campaign of liquidation.” Iraq finds its education system “virtually on the point of collapse” with only 30 per cent of pupils attending school last year compared with 75 per cent the previous academic year. He said there have been 190 bombing and missile attacks on educational facilities in Afghanistan in 2005-2006. In 2006, attacks prevented 100,000 Afghan children who had been in school the year before from attending. In Colombia, 310 teachers have been murdered since 2000, while in Nepal, between 2002 and 2006, over 10,000 teachers and 22,000 students were abducted, and 734 teachers and 1,730 students arrested or tortured. Myanmar, which Mr. O’Malley called the “child soldier capital of the world,” had 70,000 minors enlisted in 2002. The study, which is based on available statistics, finds that 40 per cent of the 77 million students not in school live in conflict-affected areas. Mr. O’Malley noted that the problem, which is difficult to document, could well be more widespread, and called for the establishment of a global system to monitor the situation. Pointing out that “attacks on educational institutions are a war crime,” the study charts the extent and nature of the violence and suggests actions to address it. Among other measures, it calls for campaigns to end impunity and steps to designate schools as sanctuaries in conflict zones. “One suggestion is that we create a symbol rather like the Red Cross to denote recognition of this status” protecting educational facilities, said Mr. O’Malley. He called for international pressure to combat impunity for attacks. “We need urgent, collective action, including human rights campaigns, to set up a global database on education attacks, to end impunity for attacks, and to work towards acceptance of schools as zones of peace and safe sanctuaries.” The report also says that the UN Security Council should “recognize the role that education can play in both contributing to tension and in promoting peace, and should offer support for strategies to remove education as a factor in conflicts.” In an interview published on UNESCO’s website, the author suggests that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be given more resources to bring education-related cases to trial. “This would widen its deterrent effect,” he said. Mr. O’Malley also discusses the reason the report does not deal with random acts of violence such as the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University in the United States in April. “This study doesn’t include attacks like the one in Virginia, because it was not politically motivated,” he said. But he adds that “there is one link,” namely the easy availability of guns. “The likelihood of attacks in conflict-affected countries most likely increases partly because more people with grievances have the weapons and therefore the means to carry out a violent attack.” The report is dedicated to the memory of Safia Ama Jan, who worked throughout her life to get Afghan girls into school before she was shot and killed outside her home in Kandahar in September 2006. 8 November 2007A major United Nations study on the impact of conflict on education finds students, teachers and schools under concerted and deliberate attack and calls for urgent measures to protect the academic future of children living in war zones. read more

Food security in Pacific islands at risk from climate changerelated disasters –

A new report, Climate Change and Food Security in Pacific Island Countries, notes that development efforts in the islands have been seriously constrained by such disasters.As a result, these countries appear to be in a “constant mode of recovery,” according to the report, published jointly by FAO, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the University of the South Pacific.“Climate projections for the Pacific island countries are bleak and indicate reduced food security, especially for households,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General, Natural Resources Management and Environment Department.“It is critical to build resilience of food systems to avoid enormous future economic losses in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Countries will have to assess how vulnerable their food systems are and how they can adapt agriculture, forestry and fisheries to future climate-related disasters. There is a need to act urgently,” he added.While Pacific island countries have already committed to a number of global and regional agreements to tackle climate change, the report highlights the need for a more systematic approach, with national plans involving governments, the private sector and civil society.“Integrating climate change adaptation into national policies, strategies, programmes and budgets related to agriculture, forestry and fisheries should become a major priority,” noted Mr. Müller.In particular, countries must review their development policies in these fields in light of new information on climate change. In addition, farmers should receive the best available information and guidelines on the choice of crop varieties, soil and water management options under changed environmental conditions to avert the risk of crop failures.“Nations that have pushed for monoculture crop production for foreign markets will need to assess their food security potential,” states the report. “It is well established that diversified agricultural systems will fare better under climate change scenarios.” 2 December 2008The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today that climate change-related disasters such as cyclones, flash floods and droughts are likely to have a serious impact on food production in Pacific island nations, and called for urgent measures to adapt to expected losses. read more

Major UN agency suspends Gaza relief operations after Israeli strike kills driver

The body of another UN worker killed in a bombing several days ago was found today and UN officials said the suspension would continue until they received adequate assurances from Israel that such incidents will not be repeated.The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said the clearly marked convoy carrying a UN flag and picking up supplies at the Erez crossing into Gaza had been coordinated with Israeli liaison officers who gave the green light. A second equally coordinated and marked UN medical convoy on its way to fetch the body of an UNRWA staffer killed in an earlier bombardment came under light arms fire in Gaza City. “This is heartbreaking… a very, very difficult decision for us to take,” UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza John Ging told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York, speaking by video link from Gaza. “The population here are in a dreadful state and really need our help at this point but we have also a responsibility to our staff, and eager as they are, and believe me they are, we cannot fly in the face of the security situation.”While UNRWA is perfectly prepared for reasonable risks in a conflict zone, “added to those is the fact that we cannot rely on firm commitments given by the Israeli side, carefully coordinated with them, green lights given to move… specifics provided, carefully coordinated throughout, and to have the Israeli forces on the ground firing at and now hitting aid workers.” He said the movement of all staff would be suspended until UNRWA could be assured of their safety, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the same news conference: “We are seeking those assurances… We’re talking very urgently about how we can make better arrangements, more reliable arrangements to avoid these incidents on the ground which we simply cannot see repeated. Otherwise we simply won’t be able to do our job.”Mr. Ging said Israel was investigating the Erez incident, which came two days after Israeli shelling near an UNRWA school killed 40 people and injured more than 100. Israel said it was returning fire from the area of the school. UN officials stressed there were no Hamas or other militants inside the school.On today’s second incident, which occurred during Israel’s stated daily three-hour lull in fighting, Mr. Ging said he had received no credible explanation from Israel as to how “the green light turned into three rounds” of light arms fire. Asked how he could be sure that Israel was responsible for the incidents, he said the Israelis had not so far disputed the cases. “The headlines are that we desperately need a full and immediate ceasefire in Gaza to enable the civilian population to be protected and helped and that need is becoming more desperate by the hour,” Mr. Holmes said, stressing that most of the Strip was without power, although some fuel was getting through, and 20,000 people were in UN shelters.He added that the Israeli lull, which the UN has called totally insufficient, allowed residents to get food supplies, access medical services, get to the dead and wounded in buildings, bury the dead and dig out more bodies from the rubble. Meanwhile rocket fire into Israel continued. He cited credible Palestinian reports that the death toll had now reached 758, of whom 257 were children and 56 women, with 3,100 wounded of whom 1,080 are children and 452 women.He referred to “absolutely horrifying” accounts that the International Red Cross had reached bombed houses in Zaitoun, finding 12 dead people and four children alive next to their dead mother on mattresses in one, and 15 wounded in another, noting that what was particularly shocking was that a nearby Israeli team must have been aware of the wounded, yet did nothing. While UNRWA has suspended its supplies for the 750,000 people classified as refugees, a further 250,000 of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants receive food aid from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which has not yet taken a decision on its operations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the incidents, once again calling for an immediate ceasefire. In a statement issued by his spokesperson, he noted that four UNRWA local staff have been killed since the conflict started 13 days ago. Mr. Ging said that when another UN convoy came under fire yesterday, Israel said it was not firing at it but over it.UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman voiced deep concern that the ongoing violence had forced UNRWA to suspend operations. “This can only deepen an already critical humanitarian situation and put children at even greater risk of death or permanent damage. The distribution of food, water, fuel and medicine should not be impeded,” she said in a statement.“UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict to take every measure to protect children. It is only with an end to the conflict that children’s rights can be fully respected. In the interim, safe spaces and unimpeded humanitarian access must be established in Gaza urgently to ensure that children have access to regular life-saving supplies and support.”UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told the Security Council today that, with Gaza’s borders closed, the civilian population cannot flee to safety elsewhere. He called for strict adherence to humanitarian principles in and around Gaza, including respect for the universal right to seek and receive asylum. 8 January 2009A United Nations agency that is a lifeline for 750,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza suspended food delivery operations today after Israeli strikes killed one of its drivers and injured a second after they had received Israeli clearance on the 13th day of an offensive launched with the stated aim of ending Hamas militant rocket attacks into Israel. read more

Senior UN official to go to Serbia for more talks on Kosovo

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Kosovo Lamberto Zannier received an invitation to meet with Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic in Belgrade later this month, which he has accepted, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) announced today.It said the consultations would broach a broad range of issues relating to Mr. Ban’s most recent report to the Security Council, in which he stressed the need for a reconfiguration of UNMIK after Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February last year.Noting that the Mission has faced significant challenges to its ability to perform the vast majority of its tasks as an interim administration, including in civil and economic governance, where new institutions are being created and new roles assumed by the Kosovo authorities under the constitution they adopted, Mr. Ban said reconfiguration was being accelerated to adapt fully to the prevailing circumstances on the ground. UNMIK took over the administration of Kosovo in 1999 after North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO) forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid deadly fighting with the majority ethnic Albanian population there. The UN has remained neutral on the question of the status of Kosovo, since its declaration of independence.Mr. Zannier recently held consultations with Kosovo authorities similar to those he will have in Belgrade, and is also consulting with other relevant stakeholders, in particular the European Union (EU), which is undertaking an enhanced operational role with its EULEX mission on the rule of law, the largest civilian mission ever launched under the European Security and Defence Policy.EULEX, which works under the general framework of United Nations Security Resolution 1244, operates under the overall authority and within the status-neutral framework of the UN, focusing particularly on the areas of international policing, justice and customs.Serbia has accepted these arrangements, but Kosovo’s authorities reject them, pledging instead to cooperate with EULEX in accordance with the mandate foreseen for it in Kosovo’s declaration of independence, its constitution and its legislation.In his report Mr. Ban said he was encouraged by Kosovo’s indication that it was willing to cooperate with EULEX and, inter alia, the EU and NATO. 12 February 2009A senior United Nations official will meet with Serbian ministers later this month for wide-ranging discussions on Kosovo, which proclaimed its independence a year ago in a move that Serbia rejects. read more

New flu uncovers public healths successes challenges – Ban

19 May 2009Global solidarity is crucial to containing the outbreak of influenza A(H1N1), which has also revealed the successes and challenges public health faces, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today. Global solidarity is crucial to containing the outbreak of influenza A(H1N1), which has also revealed the successes and challenges public health faces, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.In addition to highlighting the interconnected nature of the world, the new flu’s spread has allowed for a deeper understanding of the need for advance planning for a pandemic, Mr. Ban told the World Health Assembly under way in Geneva. “We have never been better prepared to respond.”Crucial in fighting the new flu is global solidarity, which he said “must be at the heart of the world’s response to this crisis.”This solidarity must be manifested in greater access to drugs and vaccines, the sharing of virus samples and data, and the lifting of “self-defeating” restrictions on travel, the Secretary-General said.“It means that WHO [World Health Organization] and other vital bodies have the resources they need when they need them,” he added. “It means that we all act in the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.”Further, the outbreak has highlighted the importance of transparency and the importance of investing in strong public health systems, which Mr. Ban characterized as “the guardians of good health in normal times and the bedrock of our response to the new outbreaks and emerging diseases.”WHO reported today that 40 countries have officially reported nearly 10,000 cases of influenza A(H1N1), with nearly 80 deaths. WHO’s pandemic alert level remains at Phase 5 – on a six-point warning scale – meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus on a community level is restricted to one of the agency’s geographic regions, in this case North America.In today’s address, the Secretary-General also emphasized the importance of ensuring continued investment in public health, even in the face of a recession. Curbing funding on health at times of financial downturns is “not just morally wrong, it is economically foolish,” he added.In spite of the need for increased resources, he pointed out that “we also must do more with what we have now,” calling for creative solutions to surmount obstacles, including women’s health, an issue he said ties together with global security, prosperity and progress.Also today, Mr. Ban took part in a meeting, convened by WHO and attended by representatives of some 20 pharmaceutical companies, to ensure that developing countries will have access to vaccines. “Our outreach this morning with the leaders was to discuss how best to ensure that vaccines get to those who need them,” the Secretary-General stated at a joint news conference with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.He pledged to work with companies, governments and other partners to improve vaccine access, including pricing and distribution, in poor communities and countries.“We must act in the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Mr. Ban. “In addition to being noble, this is also in our self-interest given the nature of infectious diseases. And we must remain vigilant. We may be in a grace period with H1N1, but we are still in the danger zone.” At a high-level gathering on influenza A(H1N1) yesterday, Dr. Chan underscored the importance of obtaining reliable information on the different aspects of the influenza A(H1N1) infection in order to make informed decisions on how to manage the outbreak and prepare for a possible global pandemic.“We are all under pressure to make urgent and far-reaching decisions in an atmosphere of considerable scientific uncertainty,” she said. read more

Tackling impunity key to consolidating peace in Nepal – UN rights official

At a press briefing, Richard Bennett, the Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal), stressed the need for both sides of the conflict to cooperate with independent investigations into abuses.“The victims of these violations and their families deserve no less,” he said. “They have the right to know the truth and to a remedy, and they should be at the heart of everyone’s concerns.”Parties to the peace process agreed that addressing the past is essential for a durable peace, “but, regrettably, too little progress has been made,” the official noted.Impunity reigns, he added, for political crimes as well, including cases of torture and arbitrary detention at the Maharajgunj barracks in the capital, Kathmandu, in 2003 and 2004, as well as several instances of where the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) are responsible.In a recent letter to the Nepalese prime minister, Mr. Bennett said that he highlighted the urgency of the need to make progress on investigating the disappearances at the Kathmandu barracks.In 2006, a high-level military task force dismissed allegations made in a OHCHR-Nepal report from the same year, which identified that the actions of the brigade during 2003-2004 at the barracks “as one example of systematic violations of human rights committed by [army personnel] during the conflict.”“OHCHR considers that the NA [Nepalese army], as the alleged perpetrator, is not the appropriate institution to investigate allegations of conflict-related disappearances,” Mr. Bennett said today.During a recent meeting with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (“Prachanda”), who heads the UCPN-M and stepped down as Nepal’s prime minister in May, the UN official said that he reiterated his concerns about unresolved cases, both committed during the conflict and in its aftermath, which the UCPN-M has admitted responsibility but the alleged perpetrators remain at large.Some of these cases include the bombing of a public vehicle in Madi, Chitwan, killing nearly 40 people and for which the party claimed to be behind. To date, none of the five cadres identified as being behind the incident have been detained or investigated.Mr. Bennett said that the party has also refused to cooperate with Nepal’s police in the investigation into abductions and killings.He reiterated High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s comments in the Nepalese capital earlier this year that until demands “for justice are fulfilled and accountability for past, and in particular on-going, violations are ensured, a truly new Nepal will not emerge, and indeed, the peace process could be jeopardized.”Earlier this month, a new UN-backed project was launched to help heal the scars left by Nepal’s civil war, using transitional justice mechanisms to spur reconciliation.The “Peace through Justice” initiative, financed through a $2 million grant from the UN Peace Fund for Nepal (UNPFN), seeks to aid in setting up effective transitional justice systems provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the 2006 pact ended the conflict between forces loyal to the former King of Nepal and Maoists.OHCHR said that “a systematic approach to dealing with the past can help societies heal and work their way back to normality. Establishing the facts of the conflict, acknowledging the losses suffered by the victims and providing a platform for justice helps end impunity and aids reconciliation.”The project, which will run initially for 12 months, will support the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR) to set up bodies, such as the Commission on Inquiry on Disappearances, and will focus on documenting human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed during the conflict, which claimed some 13,000 lives.Last week, Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, cautioned that the peace process has stagnated, as the Security Council unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the the UN mission in Nepal (UNMIN) for six months.Ms. Landgren voiced hope that the resolution sends a signal to the Government and parties “to take the peace process forward.”Established following the signing of the 2006 peace deal by the Government and the Maoists to end the country’s decade-long civil war, UNMIN has been assisting with key tasks, such as monitoring of the management of arms and armed personnel of the Maoists and the Nepal Army.“The peace process has had significant successes since its inception,” Ms. Landgren told reporters in New York.But she pointed to several issues that could derail the process, such as polarization among the parties and the controversy over the roles of the army and the president.In his latest report on Nepal’s request for UN assistance in support of the peace process, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that progress on key elements in Nepal’s peace process has slowed down or stalled altogether owing to the country’s recent political crisis.“The two major tasks at the current stage of the peace process are the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist army personnel and the drafting of the new constitution,” he said, noting that efforts to advance on both these fronts slowed with the onset of the crisis sparked by the resignation of Mr. Dahal, the UCPN-M chairperson, in early May, which occurred one day after the Chief of Army Staff – who he had fired – was reinstated.A senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML), Madhav Kumar Nepal, was elected Prime Minister on 23 May and subsequently formed a new coalition Government with the support of 21 other political parties but without the participation of the Maoists.“The modest progress witnessed in some aspects of the peace process during the first quarter of 2009 has stalled against a backdrop of mistrust and a further deterioration of relations among key stakeholders, notably between UCPN-M and the other major parties and between UCPN-M and the Nepal Army,” said the Secretary-General. 29 July 2009Lack of accountability is hindering progress in the peace process in Nepal, the top United Nations human rights official in the country said today, calling for perpetrators of violations, committed both during the decade-long civil war and afterwards, to be brought to justice. read more

Serbian nationalist leader faces fresh contempt of court charges at UN tribunal

5 February 2010The leader of the Serb Radical Party was today charged with contempt of court by the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the Balkans over allegedly revealing details about protected witnesses in his own trial. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced that it has initiated contempt proceedings against Vojislav Šešelj for having disclosed information on 11 protected witnesses in a book he authored, in violation of the Trial Chamber’s orders. The information released included the witnesses’ real names, their occupations and their places of residence.The indictment follows a confidential decision made by the ICTY’s appeals chamber on 17 December 2009 in which it found that the trial chamber had erred when it concluded in August last year that insufficient grounds existed to prosecute Mr. Šešelj for contempt. The prosecution’s original motion related to three books, whose titles are confidential, authored by Mr. Šešelj. The prosecution appealed the trial chamber’s findings in relation to only one of the three books. This is the second time Mr. Šešelj faces charges of contempt. On 24 July 2009, he was found guilty of contempt and sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment for disclosing the name and other personal details of protected witnesses. The case is currently pending before the appeals chamber.Mr. Šešelj had pleaded not guilty to nine charges at the ICTY, including murder, torture and persecution, relating to his alleged role in an ethnic cleansing campaign in the Vojvodina region of Serbia between 1991 and 1993.The trial resumed at The Hague on 12 January following a year’s delay after prosecutors said the case had been compromised by threats against witnesses. read more

UN agency deplores fatal shooting of Somali asylumseekers in Mozambique

6 May 2011The United Nations refugee agency today condemned the recent shooting by Mozambican police of four Somali asylum-seekers and called on authorities to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. The four Somalis were fatally shot on 29 April, reportedly in Namoto in Cabo Delgado province, according to a press statement issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).The agency “urges the Government of Mozambique to respect the human rights of asylum-seekers and to take appropriate action to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable,” the statement noted.UNHCR reported that it was still trying to obtain more details about the circumstances of the killings.Mozambique has become an increasingly popular destination for Somalis attempting to flee violence and poverty in their homeland, with an upsurge in numbers starting early last year. read more

Ban meets with Afghan President ahead of international conference

During their meeting, Mr. Ban also expressed concern about the security situation in Afghanistan, according to information provided by his spokesperson. The Secretary-General noted that the United Nations, through its mission in the country (UNAMA), will continue to work with the Afghan Government towards a sustainable peace. He also insisted on Afghan ownership of the peace process, which should be inclusive, and called on the country to continue on the road to full inclusion of all, especially women, in all aspects of life. Respect for human rights must be a cornerstone of government policy, he added.The conference, which will be chaired by Mr. Karzai, will focus on helping the country on the path towards greater democracy, stability, security and economic development. Also in attendance will be Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNAMA, and Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.Mr. Ban also met on Sunday with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, with whom he held wide-ranging discussions on the situation in Afghanistan, as well as the situation in Syria, Iran, the Middle East and North Africa. Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Mr. Westerwelle, the Secretary-General emphasized that more needs to be done to promote the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, a point he also highlighted in his meeting with Afghan civil society leaders today.In a separate press encounter with Afghan media, Mr. Ban was asked about the absence of Pakistan at the conference. “The Pakistani delegation has decided not to come but that doesn’t mean that Pakistan is not committed,” he said. “I believe that Pakistan is committed to work together with the Afghan people and also to promote peace and security in the region.” 4 December 2011Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday stressed the unity of the international community in supporting Afghanistan for the long term, as he met with President Hamid Karzai in Bonn, Germany, ahead of the conference set to convene there on Monday. read more

Closing Bell TSX up modestly as traders shrug off Spanish downgrade

TORONTO — The Toronto stock market was slightly higher Thursday as resource stocks rose alongside prices for oil and metals.Here are the closing numbersTSX — 12,233.95 +21.53 +0.2%S&P 500 — 1,432.84 +0.28 + 0.0%Dow — 13,326.39 -18.58 -0.1%Nasdaq — 3,049.41 -2.37 -0.1%The S&P/TSX composite index was well off session highs by mid-afternoon, gaining 21.53 points to 12,233.95 following three days of losses. Markets have been depressed by fresh signs of a slowing economic recovery, including another downward revision of global growth by the International Monetary Fund and forecasts of lower demand by resource giant Alcoa Inc.The TSX Venture Exchange was 2.21 points lower at 1,299.94.Commodity prices also supported the Canadian dollar, which was up 0.21 of a cent at 102.18 cents US.New York markets were also off the best levels of the day with the Dow Jones industrials down 18.58 points to 13,326.39 on top of two back-to-back, triple-digit slides. The Nasdaq composite index slipped 2.4 points to 3,049.38 while the S&P 500 index ticked up 0.28 of a point at 1,432.84.Indexes had earlier been well into positive territory as a much better than expected read on U.S. jobless insurance claims raised hiring prospects. Traders also looked ahead to key earnings reports Friday from U.S. banking giants, including JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.The U.S. Labour Department said the number of people seeking unemployment aid plummeted last week by 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the lowest level in more than four years. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped by 11,500 to 364,000, a six-month low.Traders appeared to take in stride a move by Standard & Poor’s to cut its rating on Spain’s debt by two notches to BBB-minus, leaving the country on the verge of non-investment grade, or junk, status.The Spanish government has so far refused to tap a new European Central Bank bond-buying facility that has been largely designed to keep a lid on the country’s borrowing rates. But some analysts think the downgrade will help push the government to finally request the help.Even so, others think traders are in danger of letting their guard down.“We probably don’t focus enough on Europe. I still think it’s simmering and could blow up in our face,” said Jim Muir, director at Fraser Mackenzie.“But we’re all growing very complacent with the problems over there. One day we’ll wake up and there could very well be another Lehman Brothers moment happen there. But history shows we do work our way through these problems.”Earnings expectations are low for the third quarter as the debt crisis continues to take a toll on the economies in Europe, affecting the results of multinationals. The malaise has also spread to developing economies such as China.“Expectations are for a 2.1% year-over-year decline in S&P 500 operating earnings — the first year-over-year drop since the recession,” said BMO Capital Markets senior economist Robert Kavcic.“Also, half of the 10 major sectors are expected to be in the red, so the earnings slowdown is relatively broad based and not just a one-sector phenomenon.”Merger and acquisition news also helped support markets.The Wall Street Journal reported that Sprint Nextel is in advanced talks to be acquired by Japanese cellphone company Softbank Corp. in a transaction valued at more than US$12.8-billion. Sprint Nextel shares surged 14.09% to US$5.75 in New York as the company confirmed during the morning that there have been talks with Softbank on a possible transaction.Most TSX sectors were higher while resource stocks led gainers as prices for oil and metals advanced.The energy sector was up 0.57% as oil continued to find support from worries that the Syrian conflict is escalating. Traders worry that the civil war in Syria could grow into a wider regional conflict that could threaten oil supplies from Middle East producers. The Middle East and North Africa account for about a third of global oil production.The November crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange was up 82 cents at US$92.07 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources rose 21 cents to $30.01.Nexen shares climbed six cents to $25.21 as the federal government extended its review period for the proposed $15.1-billion takeover of the energy company by China’s state-owned offshore oil company. The review under the Investment Canada Act is being extended by 30 days. An initial 45-day review period was set to end Friday.The base metals sector was up 1.35% as December copper climbed three cents to US$3.75 a pound. Teck Resources ran ahead 49 cents to $30.39.The gold sector was flat as December bullion edged up $5.50 to US$1,770.60 an ounce.NovaGold Resources Inc. gained 13 cents to C$5.04 as the company reported a third-quarter net loss of $21.5-million or eight cents per share. That is less than half of its net loss of $52.1-million or 22 cents per share from a year ago.The exploration and development miner, whose flagship asset is its 50% owned Donlin gold project in Alaska, did not report any revenues for the quarter.Utilities were the biggest losers with Just Energy Group 31 cents lower to $10.55.Here’s the news investors were watching today: IMF urges Europe to put brakes on austerityGreece’s unemployment hits record quarter of workforceOttawa extends review of CNOOC’s bid for NexenCanada’s trade deficit narrows as imports fallON DECK FRIDAYECONOMIC NEWSUNITED STATES8:30 a.m.Producer Price index (Sept): Economists expect a 0.8% rise from the month before, 1.8% gain year over year 9:55 a.m.University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment index (Oct): Economists expect a reading of 78, flat with last month CORPORATE NEWSUNITED STATESJPMorgan Chase & Co Q3 earnings: Analysts expect US$1.21 a share Wells Fargo Q3 earnings: Analysts expect 87¢ a share read more

Closing Bell TSX Wall Street get boost from strong corporate earnings

TORONTO — The Toronto stock market closed higher amid positive earnings news and despite rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.Toronto’s S&P/TSX composite index was ahead 20.86 points at 14,554.25. The Canadian dollar edged up 0.03 of a cent to 90.68 cents US.New York’s Dow industrials was unchanged from Wednesday at 16,501.65 as traders took in positive earnings reports from General Motors and Caterpillar.The Nasdaq gained 21.37 points to 4,148.34 after Facebook and Apple blew past expectations while the S&P 500 index gained 3.22 points to 1,878.61.Here are the closing numbersTSX — 14,554.25     +53.86     +0.37%     S&P 500 —  1,878.61     +3.22     +0.17%     Dow — 16,501.65     0.00     0.00%     Nasdaq — 4,148.34     +21.37     +0.52%Potash Corporation helped lift the TSX. The fertilizer giant’s shares gained 1.75% as the company posted quarterly net income of $340 million, down sharply from $556 million a year ago. But it was a better result than what Potash Corp itself forecast earlier this year.Shares in Apple jumped 8.2% after the company beat on earnings and revenue, upped its dividend and announced a seven-for-one stock split in June.TOP STORIESCIBC chief executive Gerry McCaughey to retire in April 2016 after more than a decade in the jobApple buys itself time as CEO Cook insists on ‘getting it right’ on next big thingCanada’s export explosion: EDC predicts economy on threshold of robust recoveryPotash Corp profit plunges, but CEO Bill Doyle sees signs demand is on the reboundWHAT’S ON DECK FRIDAYCANADAOttawa’s fiscal monitor UNITED STATES9:55 a.m.University of Michigan consumer sentiment index (April): Economists expect reading of 83 CORPORATE NEWSCANADACanadian Utilities ‘a’ Q1 earnings: Analysts expect 75¢ a share Capital Power Corp    Q1 earnings: Analysts expect  38¢ a share UNITED STATESColgate-Palmolive Q1 earnings: Analysts expect 68¢ a share Ford Motor Company Q1 earnings: Analysts expect 31¢ a share Tyco International Q1 earnings: Analysts expect 41¢ a share Weyerhaeuser Co.  Q1 earnings: Analysts expect 24¢ a share read more

Loonie soars above 82 cents US TSX down as price of gold

TORONTO — The loonie closed above 82 cents US Thursday, building on the upward push it got Wednesday when it reached its highest level in more than two years following the Bank of Canada’s rate hike.The Canadian dollar was trading at an average price of 82.32 cents US Thurday, up 0.78 of a U.S. cent. That marks five straight positive trading days in which its value has increased almost three cents U.S.“We’re definitely a little surprised to see the momentum here given that it really wasn’t a surprise that the central bank was going to raise rates one more time. The debate would have been whether it would be September or October,” said Sadiq Adatia, chief investment officer of Sun Life Global Investments.“But the market seems to believe, I think, that there is going to be a continuation of this rate hike, either in October or it will continue on to the new year — that maybe the Bank of Canada is going to continue to be relatively aggressive. And I’m not sure that’s true.”Wednesday’s hike of the central bank’s overnight lending rate to 1.0 per cent came less than a week after the latest data for economic growth showed an impressive expansion of 4.5 per cent for Canada in the second quarter.Adatia says the Bank of Canada is going to have to be very mindful of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s next moves in terms of any future rate hikes.The Fed has raised interest rates three times in the last year and has said it plans to raise rates once more this year. But based on a relatively weak jobs report for August that was released on Sept. 1, investors don’t think that will happen.“The Fed is sort of being on pause a little bit here, letting the economy breathe in the few rate hikes they’ve done so far,” Adatia said.“I think the Bank of Canada should take a page out of the Fed’s book.”Meanwhile, the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index experienced another day of moderate losses, dropping 35.30 points to 15,024.53.The TSX has fallen more than 167 points since markets resumed on Tuesday after the holiday weekend.On Wall Street, major stock indexes were mixed, as investors weighed the prospects of big losses from Hurricane Irma which is projected to hit Florida this weekend.The Dow Jones industrial average gave back 22.86 points to 21,784.78 and the S&P 500 index inched down 0.44 of a point to 2,465.10. The Nasdaq composite index was up 4.56 points to 6,397.87.In commodities news, gold soared to its highest level in a year when the December bullion contract advanced $11.30 to US$1,350.30 an ounce.The October crude contract was down seven cents to US$49.09 per barrel, the October natural gas contract advanced two cents to US$2.98 per mmBTU, and the December copper contract declined a cent at US$3.14 a pound.Follow @DaveHTO on Twitter. read more

American grocery delivery service Instacart aims to serve 80 of Canadians within

TORONTO — American grocery delivery service Instacart is buying Toronto-based technology company Unata as part of its ambitious expansion efforts across Canada.Instacart’s chief business officer Nilam Ganenthiran said Tuesday that the acquisition will give the company access to Unata’s digital flyer, loyalty, e-catering and list-building capabilities — and fits into its lofty goal of providing services to 80 per cent of Canadian consumers within the next 18 months.Instacart wouldn’t outline how exactly it planned to reach that goal, but when asked if expansion would rely solely on its existing partnership with Loblaws, it stressed that the company is “designed to partner with many retailers to give customers many options.”“Unata is a pioneer in bringing all of that online, just like Instacart is a pioneer in picking and packing groceries,” Ganenthiran said in an interview.“We think this helps us bring to brick-and-mortar companies the chance to do more with us.”Unata was founded in 2009 as a way to offer retailers a chance to digitize and introduce an online grocery platform. It has recently been toying with voice-activation services that would allow customers to place orders through devices like Google Home.Instacart’s acquisition deal comes as the company is getting set to roll out Wednesday in Ontario in Ottawa, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and the Kitchener-Waterloo region through a Loblaw partnership.The company first debuted in the Canadian market last December by working with the grocery store giant to offer deliveries within an hour to its customers in Toronto. Later this year, Instacart said it will launch with Loblaws in the Greater Vancouver Area.Instacart faces fierce competition from e-commerce giant Amazon, which got into the grocery business when it purchased Whole Foods for US$13.7 billion last year.Ganenthiran said he isn’t intimidated by Amazon because he feels their “threat is real but overblown” and that “smart grocers will rise to the challenge.”He said brick-and-mortar grocers expanding to home delivery have an edge over online companies because they’ve been building relationships with customers for decades that are largely centred around their stores being so close to consumers.“That’s an advantage that Whole Foods or Amazon will never have,” he said.Instacart would not reveal financial terms of its deal with Unata, which a company spokeswoman said is expected to close “imminently.”Unata will keep its Toronto headquarters as part of the deal. read more

Taxi fares to increase

Bus fares had also increased from this week. Taxi fares (Three wheeler) will be increased by Rs. 2 per kilometer from today owing to the fuel price hike, the Secretary of the Three Wheelers Association Lal Kalinga said.Accordingly, he said that Three Wheel operators will charge Rs. 32 per kilometer as opposed to Rs. 30 which was the earlier rate.The price increase comes even as the Ceylon Electricity Board and Water Board announced they were also increasing the cost charged on consumers.

Tamils stage hunger strike in Jaffna

The hunger strike was launched by war displaced people from Valikamam who are yet to be resettled in their original lands after being forced out of their homes in 1990. Meanwhile leader of Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Gajan Ponnambalam said that some Tamil journalists who were covering the protest were attacked. Tamils, including war displaced people and politicians, staged a hunger strike in Jaffna today.The demonstrators were calling for the war displaced people to be resettled in their original lands in parts of the north. He said that several Internally Displaced People (IDP) who were scheduled to take part in the protest were also prevented from doing so.The United National Party (UNP) and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were among the political parties which took part in the demonstration. read more

Police assure transparency in Eknaligoda probe

The police statement said that key information related to the disappearance of the journalist have already been unearthed following the arrest of three suspects. Eknaligoda’s wife Sandhya Eknaligoda had raised suspicions of an attempt to suppress evidence over the investigations following outside pressure but police denied the allegations. The police today assured transparency in the investigations over missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and denied allegations raised by the wife of the journalist.A statement by the police headquarters said that the police will not leave room for the investigations to be hampered by revealing all details to the media. The police say they want to arrest all those involved in the disappearance of the journalist and produce those responsible before a court of law.The police statement said that revealing every single detail to the media before investigations conclude, could affect the progress in the probe. (Colombo Gazette) read more

Government urged to probe claims of phone tapping of judges

The Government was today urged to investigate claims that telephones of some judges were being tapped.Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath said that the Government had been silent on the allegation of phone tapping. Herath told Parliament the Government must come out and make a clear statement on the allegation if the allegation is false. President’s Counsel Hemantha Warnakulasuriya was reported as saying that the telephone of a judge was tapped. Deputy Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe said that the police can investigate the claim only if the judge files a complaint.He said that so far the judge has not made a formal complaint and that it was only the lawyer who had raised the matter. Senasinghe recalled that the former Government tapped even the telephones of the opposition but the current Government does not endorse such actions. (Colombo Gazette) read more

Want a 750000 loan approved in half an hour BDC has an

The Business Development Bank of Canada is so focused on delivering money to Canadian entrepreneurs that it is issuing loans of up to $750,000 on an iPad app in less time than it takes to brew a pot of coffee.In BDC’s annual report, the bank revealed that since November of 2017 they’ve actually issued more than 3,000 such loans through the BDC Express Loan app, saving 26,000 hours of work. All 600 account managers with the bank are equipped with mobile devices to approve loans in a single site visit.In some cases we’ve done it in five or 10 minutesBDC CEO Michael Denham Loans can be approved in 30 minutes, but Michael Denham, president and chief executive for BDC, said it’s often quite a bit faster.“I think people know how focused I am on the Express Loans, so when things happen very, very rapidly, they give me a call,” Denham said. “In some cases we’ve done it in five or 10 minutes.”BDC is fond of saying they’re in the business of moving fast, because they’re in the business of supporting entrepreneurs, and the 2019 annual report shows that business is good.Related Stories:Liberals’ $600-million cleantech fund is losing money and struggling to find investmentsDenham said the Express Loan app is only for existing clients, so there isn’t really any added risk to a speedy approval, since most of the due diligence is already done. BDC Capital bets on four more startups led by women Labour shortage is the ‘new norm’ that will last a decade: BDC economist says “We look at the client, the history, the credit history, et cetera, so we know in advance how much we’re comfortable authorizing,” Denham said in an interview with the Financial Post.“When we sit down with a client we can do the tailoring of the actual amount, interest rate options, terms options, but it’s all within parameters that we’ve approved in advance.”Over the past year, BDC issued $7.2 billion in loans, and in total the bank has nearly $35 billion in capital committed to small and medium sized companies in Canada.The bank, which is a Crown corporation owned by the federal government, announced that it posted net income of $885.6 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, and that it will be returning a $128 million dividend to the government.In recent years, the BDC has been keeping most of its profit as retained earnings in order to grow its balance sheet. Over the past five years, net income has grown steadily and cumulatively totalled nearly $3.2 billion, with $330 million returned to the federal government.Denham said that growing the bank’s balance sheet is important.“It’s not growth for growth’s sake. It’s growth for a purpose, and the purpose is to be there to fill the gaps, to make sure entrepreneurs have what they need to grow,” he said.“We’re focused on growing so that entrepreneurs have us as an option to meet their financing and advisory requirements. So when I look at the research we’ve done and the responses to surveys around access to capital etc. I continue to believe that we need to keep in the market, continue to grow to be there for entrepreneurs.”One focus for BDC in recent years has been the venture capital ecosystem in Canada, providing funding for startups that need help getting off the ground.Denham said he believes that right now the availability of venture capital in Canada is as good as any time in the past 20 years, so the bank is focusing on specific niches, including a $200 million fund for women-led startups, as well as industrial innovation for traditional sectors of the economy like manufacturing.• Email: jmcleod@nationalpost.com | Twitter: read more