Canada’s Aboriginals Concerned about Petronas Plan

By Reuters 2015-05-10 17:12:48

Members of a Canadian aboriginal community edged closer to rejecting a roughly C$1 billion ($827 million) deal with Malaysia’s Petronas to support a liquefied natural gas export terminal, voting against the offer in the first two of three polls.

Members of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation in the British Columbia communities of Port Simpson and Prince Rupert rejected the proposed benefit package in separate votes held this week.

A third poll will be held in Vancouver on Tuesday, with the results of all three informing the final decision of the mayor and council of the 3,600-member aboriginal band.

The Lax Kw’alaams are one of numerous aboriginal communities in talks with Petronas on the development of the $11 billion Pacific NorthWest LNG project, which is part of a broader $35 billion investment by the Malaysian company in Canadian natural gas.

Opponents of the project say it poses a threat to a salmon habitat next to the proposed terminal site on Lelu Island, and have concerns about the environmental impact of the development.

The company has said it is committed to protecting the fish and their habitat, and has already made numerous design changes to address community concerns. A federal environmental review of the proposed terminal is currently underway.

The mayor of Lax Kw’alaams, Garry Reece, said he would not comment on the process, although Facebook posts by community members confirmed the offer was voted down in both polls this week.

The offer, as outlined in a memo by the Lax Kw’alaams council and posted online, includes some C$1 billion in cash from Petronas over a 40 year period, along with a land package worth roughly C$108 million from the provincial government.

The Metlakatla, a 900-member aboriginal community based just a few kilometers from the proposed terminal site, reached a 40-year benefit deal with Petronas late last year. The Kitselas First Nation have also signed an agreement.

Petronas has said it hopes to make a final investment decision on the project by the end of June.

($1 = 1.2090 Canadian dollars)

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Gulf States Want Sales Tax after Oil Slump

By Reuters 2015-05-10 17:01:09

Officials of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council agreed at the weekend to keep working toward the introduction of a value-added tax around the region, in a sign that low oil prices may be strengthening support for the idea.

A meeting in Doha of the GCC’s Financial and Economic Cooperation Committee adopted a draft agreement on VAT which will be endorsed by member governments, Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA quoted Kuwait’s Minister of Finance Anas al-Saleh as saying on Saturday.

Introducing VAT, also known as sales tax, would be a big economic reform for the wealthy Gulf oil exporting states, and politically sensitive because their populations have become used to lavish social welfare spending and near-zero taxation.

Because there is considerable travel within the GCC, officials believe VAT would have to be imposed simultaneously in all six nations to avoid smuggling of untaxed goods across borders that could cost governments billions of dollars.

GCC states have traditionally relied on oil and natural gas for 80 to 90 percent of their state revenues, leaving them acutely vulnerable to energy price swings; many economists have been urging GCC governments to introduce new taxes to diversify their revenue bases.

The GCC has been discussing the idea of introducing VAT for about a decade without acting on it. But cheap oil has opened up state budget deficits among most GCC governments in recent months, and the weekend’s Doha agreement may indicate they are now looking at the idea more seriously.

However, Saleh did not give any time frame for VAT to be introduced or specify the likely tax rate, which suggested that key details have still not been decided.

He said each GCC country would issue its own VAT law based on common principles of the Doha agreement.

The GCC officials also agreed to ask the International Monetary Fund, a vocal proponent of more taxes in the Gulf, to prepare studies of the effects of low oil prices on GCC member states, especially on their financial stability, domestic energy prices and tax policies, Saleh added.

He said ministers of justice were discussing the idea of establishing a joint GCC judicial body handling economic issues. He did not elaborate.

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Tanker Loading at Libya’s Zueitina Port

By Reuters 2015-05-10 16:37:30

A tanker has docked at the eastern Libyan port of Zueitina port to lift 750,000 barrels of crude, an oil official said on Saturday.

The ship had begun loading from the port’s tanks, the official said, adding that crude flows from connected fields were still blocked by protests that started a week ago.

Unemployed local people have blocked pipelines to the port demanding that the state oil firm hire them, shutting down the Nafoura oilfield which had pumped between 30-35,000 barrels a day to Zueitina.

“The port is working normally but there are no new crude flows,” said the oil official. “They are now emptying the port’s tanks.”

Zueitina was one of the few Libyan ports still exporting oil after the largest, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, closed in December because of clashes between armed groups allied to Libya’s two governments.

The closures have knocked down Libya’s oil production to 380-400,000 bpd, an industry source told Reuters on Friday. The OPEC member had pumped up to 1.6 million bpd in 2010 before an uprising toppled Muammar Gaddafi, sending the country and industry into turmoil.

Last month the western El Feel oilfield, run by state firm NOC and Italy’s ENI, shut down due to a strike by security guards demanding state jobs. The neighboring El Sharara field had closed in November due to a pipeline blockage.

The loss of oil revenue has triggered a public finance crisis, forcing the central bank to use up a quarter of its foreign currency reserves in 2014, according to official data.

Libya is caught in a struggle between two governments, one based in the east and a rival administration controlling Tripoli, after former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 have fallen out along political, regional and tribal lines.

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Philippines Typhoon Triggers Evacuations

By Reuters 2015-05-10 16:27:20

Typhoon Noul crashed ashore on the northeastern tip of the Philippines on Sunday, as officials warned of landslides and called on residents along the coast to evacuate to safer ground.

The category five storm packed winds of up to 185 kph (115 mph) near the center, with gusts of up to 220 kph. It made landfall in the rice-producing province of Cagayan about 400 km (250 miles) north of the capital, Manila, the weather bureau said.

Power was cut in Tuguegarao City, the capital of the province of around a million inhabitants. The typhoon is expected to move northwest at 17 kph and head towards southern Japan on Tuesday.

“We strongly advise pre-emptive evacuation while we still have time, and we expect there will be a confluence of events – a high tide, heavy rainfall in the mountains, the possibility of a storm surge and strong winds,” Alexander Pama, head of the national disaster agency, told a news briefing before the typhoon hit land.

The typhoon was expected to trigger landslides and flash floods in parts of the Cagayan Valley, the weather bureau said, adding that heavy to intense rainfall was likely within the typhoon’s 100 km diameter.

More than 5,000 passengers and about 100 vessels were stranded in ports on Saturday, mostly along the eastern seaboard. Airline Cebu Pacific cancelled at least six domestic flights to the northern Philippines.

Officials in northern Philippine provinces have alerted rescue units and positioned relief goods. The government readied trucks to ferry people away from low-lying and flood-prone areas.

An average of 20 typhoons cross the Philippines each year, with the storms becoming fiercer in recent years. More than 8,000 people died or went missing and about a million were made homeless by Haiyan, another category 5 typhoon that struck the central Philippines in 2013, bringing 5-metre high storm surges.

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Iran to Send Cargo Ship to Yemen

By Reuters 2015-05-10 16:18:32

An Iranian cargo ship will set sail for the rebel-held Yemeni port of Hodeida on Sunday evening, Iran’s Tasnim news agency said, in a move likely to fan further tensions with Saudi-led forces blockading the country.

Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi militia earlier on Sunday accepted a five-day ceasefire proposed by Saudi Arabia after more than a month of bombing that has caused severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

Tasnim reported that the cargo ship would carry 2,500 tons of humanitarian aid including food staples and medicine.

Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have accused Iran of seeking to smuggle weapons and ammunition to the Houthis and have imposed a sea and air blockade on Yemen.

Coalition jets destroyed the runway of Sanaa airport last month to prevent an Iranian plane from landing. Tehran said it was carrying aid.

Yemen imports more than 90 percent of its food and aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Iran denies funding and arming the Houthis, but Sunni Muslim Gulf countries believe the Islamic Republic is using the Shi’ite Muslim group to gain a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.

Supported by the United States, the Saudi-led coalition began air strikes against the Houthis and army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh on March 26 with the aim of restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile from Submarine

By Reuters 2015-05-09 20:13:50

North Korea said on Saturday it had successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, a step that would mark significant progress in the secretive state’s military capabilities.

It could pose a new threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States, which have tried to contain North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile strength, military experts said.

The North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, oversaw the test-launch from an offshore location as the submarine dived and “a ballistic missile surfaced from the sea and soared into the air, leaving a fiery trail of blaze,” the official KCNA news agency said.

“Through the test, it was verified and confirmed that the underwater ballistic missile launch from a strategic submarine fully achieved the latest military, scientific and technical requirements.”

North Korea is under United Nations sanctions banning it from developing or using ballistic missile technology.

The United States would not comment on the reported test but said launches using ballistic missile technology were a “clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We call on North Korea to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” a State Department official said in an email.

The KCNA report did not mention the date or the exact location of the test, but a separate KCNA dispatch on Saturday said Kim gave field guidance at a fishery complex in Sinpo, a port city on the country’s east coast and the location of a known submarine base.

ADVANCED CAPABILITIES

The test, if verified, would mean North Korea can move its missiles within range of the United States, said Korea analyst Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The test shows that North Korea missile capabilities are advancing without any constraints now despite a bevy of non-proliferation sanctions applied by the United Nations,” he said in an email.

A South Korean military expert who saw still photos of the launch in the North’s media said they appeared to show a ballistic missile being fired from a submarine in a “cold launch” through an ejection mechanism, a key element in a submarine launch system.

“The potential of this is that existing missile defense against the North can be rendered useless,” said Shin In-kyun, who runs the Korea Defense Network, an independent forum.

Such missile defense systems are positioned to look at the North, not at “submarines that could be south of Jeju or near Guam”. Jeju is a South Korean island.

Shin said a full deployment of the submarine-based missile system would still require a functional guided propulsion mechanism that can carry the missile vehicle from the water surface to a target.

The North has also yet to demonstrate it has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to be fitted on a delivery vehicle for deployment, according to experts.

South Korea did not have an immediate comment on the report on the submarine launch.

MILITARY BOASTS

In January, Johns Hopkins University’s U.S.-Korea Institute said on its website, 38 North, that satellite imagery showed possible evidence of work on vertical launch tubes on a submarine that could be for ballistic missiles.

The vessel could serve “as an experimental test bed for land-attack submarines”, it said, although it cautioned such a test would be expensive and time-consuming “with no guarantee of success”.

North Korea’s state media often boasts of successful military and space accomplishments, including the launch of a functional communications satellite, which are not independently verified by outside experts.

It is believed to have launched a long-range rocket and put an object into orbit in December 2012, defying skepticism and international warnings not to pursue such a program, which could be used to develop intercontinental missiles.

South Korea’s military said later on Saturday the North had fired three land-based cruise missiles from a separate location on its east coast into the sea with a range of about 120 km (70 miles).

The North has an arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles and last test-fired a mid-range missile in March last year, drawing further condemnation from the international community.

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