News & Reports 2013-02-03

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Broadcasting Time: 07:00-08:00, GMT+08:00, 2013-02-03

Hello and Welcome to News and Reports on China Radio International.

In This Edition

French President Francois Hollande visits Mali in hope for an early shift of anti- rebel operations to African troops.
US Vice President Joe Biden renews offers to hold direct talks with Iran in the standoff over its nuclear ambitions.
Syria's top opposition leader says he's willing to sit down for talks with President Bashar Assad's government.
And Russia commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the modern warfare's bloodiest battles that was a decisive turn in World War II.

Hot Issue Reports

French President: French Forces will Leave Mali Once Mission Finished
French President Francois Hollande says the French forces fighting Islamist rebels in Mali will leave once the mission is finished as he visits the Malian capital Bamako.

"France has no vocation to stay here in Mali, because it has to be the Malian themselves, the Africans who will have to guarantee security and independence, the sovereignty. That is the way I see the relations between France and Africa."

Hollande said that another goal of his visit was to push Malian leaders to enter a political dialogue, but he did not elaborate.

Hollande's arrival comes three weeks after France unilaterally launched a military intervention in order to stem the advance of the Islamist rebels.

So far, French troops have succeeded in ousting the rebels from three main northern cities they occupied.

Earlier, Hollande landed in the fabled Malian town of Timbuktu, six days after French forces parachuted in to retake the desert city from the rule of the rebels.

While addressing French and Malian soldiers, Hollande said their mission was not over.

"The fight is not over, and it would be a mistake to think that, just because we have been able, together with our Malian friends, to make cities like Gao and Timbuktu safe."

Around 800 French forces took part in the effort to free Timbuktu, including hundreds of paratroopers who parachuted onto nearby dunes.

Radical militants last April seized the town, once a popular tourist destination and revered centre of Islamic learning.

France now has 3,500 troops taking part in the Mali operation, in which they are working with Malian soldiers and preparing the way for an African military contingent to help stabilise the vast country.

The French-led intervention so far has rapidly forced the retreat of militants out of urban centres in Mali's north, which had been under the extremists' control.

Biden Renews Possibility of Direct U.S-Iran Talks
US Vice President Joe Biden says the U.S is prepared to hold direct talks with Iran in the standoff over its nuclear ambitions.

Biden made the comment at the annual Munich security conference, saying the talks will have to be "real".

"We have made it clear at the outset that we would not, that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership. We would not make it a secret that we're doing that. We would let our partners know if that occasion presented itself. That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do if for the exercise."

Washington has indicated in the past that it's prepared to talk directly with Iran, and talks involving all five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have made little headway.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he will strongly support Biden and also talks of about the need for incentives to be clearly shown to Iran.

Iran made no immediate comment on the possibility of direct talks with the U.S, but its foreign minister is due to address the annual conference later today.

Last month Iran announced plans to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment.

Ahmadinejad Unveils Iran's Newest Fighter Jet
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has unveiled the country's newest fighter jet, which officials claim can evade radar.

Ahmadinejad said the Qaher-313, or Dominant-313, shows Iran's will to "capture peaks."

Iran's Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi called it an "important achievement in the category of fighter jets."

"It is a fighter jet which has been fully designed and built indigenously by engineers and experts in the Defense Ministry's Aerospace Industries department. It has the capability to fly at very low altitudes and evade radars. Other capabilities include carrying weapons inside its body and landing and taking off from very short runways."

Photos released by the official IRNA news agency show the plane as a single-seat jet, described as a fighter-bomber that can combat both other aircraft and ground targets.

Iran unveiled what it said was its first domestically manufactured fighter jet, called Azarakhsh, or Lightning, in 2007.

Spain's Prime Minister Denied Receiving Secret Payments
Spain's prime minister has denied media claims that he and members of his governing Popular Party accepted or made any secret payments.

Speaking at a special executive committee meeting, Mariano Rajoy says "it's false" that he received or distributed undeclared money.

"I do not need more than two words: it's false. I have never received or handed out 'black money', never in this party or in any other place. Never. I will say it one more time: it's false. I will provide complete transparency to all the issues that affect me personally, of course, and also to the party and the board."

Rajoy says he will make public his personal accounts next week.

Earlier, local newspaper published details of secret papers belonging to former party treasurer Luis Barcenas allegedly documenting undeclared payments.

It says as of 1997, Rajoy received some 25-thousand euros in "envelopes" each year.

The money was allegedly paid by businesses, many linked to the once booming construction industry, before the sector imploded in 2008.

Opposition parties are calling for Rajoy's resignation and the holding of national elections.

Meanwhile, demonstrations also broke out in Madrid and Barcelona calling on the party to explain its finances.

The allegations came as Spain rolls out austerity measures to avoid an international bailout and battle 26 percent unemployment.

Syrian Opposition Leader Willing to Hold Talks with Assad
Syria's top opposition leader says he's willing to sit down for talks with President Bashar Assad's government, but the statement provoked an outcry from some opposition groups.

Moaz al-Khatib, President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

"The Syrian opposition is willing to sit down for talks with President Bashar Assad's regime to ease the pain of the Syrian people. We are ready to sit at the negotiation table with this regime. But the regime should make its own gesture by releasing 160,000 detainees."

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is an umbrella group designed to represent most of the Syrian opposition groups.

Al-Khatib was chosen in November to head the coalition.

His comments marked a clear departure from the long-standing opposition line, which has been categorical refusal to talk to the government.

His statement has provoked an outcry, and al-Khatib back-peddled, saying he was just expressing his own opinion.

The US, its Western allies and most Syrian opposition groups insist Assad must step down first, a position that Russia has strongly opposed.

Despite the controversy, analysts say Al-Khatib's comments marked the first opening for the possibility of dialogue to end a nearly two-year-long conflict that the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people.

Egyptian PM Urges Protesters to Restrain from Violence
Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Kandil has condemned recent attacks by protesters on state property and urged the protesters to restrain from violence in achieving their goals.

"I call on them, throughout these incidents, to look at the coming elections and prepare for them so they get the change they want. But change through violence is rejected and the Egyptian people do not allow it. We are working as a government to stop this rioting and are thwarting any attempts to attack government buildings or people."

His comments came a day after protesters clashed with security forces in central Cairo's Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace.

Security forces pumped volley after volley of tear gas and set fire to protester tents.

Protesters burned tyres and hurled stones and fireworks.

The Health Ministry said a 23-year-old died when he was shot in the chest and forehead.

The protesters in Tahrir Square have condemned an action by security forces who stripped and beat a protester.

"I can't bear seeing something like that. How can someone drag people on the ground like that? This man is a protester like us. This is unfair, we are in Egypt, this should not be happening. Enough, there has too much blood."

The march on the palace, where President Mohamed Morsi was not in, was part of a wave of demonstrations in cities around the country called by the opposition.

Russia Commemorates Battle of Stalingrad
Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in memorial events on Saturday in the southern city once known as Stalingrad, as Russia marked the 70th anniversary of the end of one of modern warfare's bloodiest battles.

As part of the day's commemorations, Putin visited the famous hilltop memorial complex surmounted by a towering 87-meter statue of a sword-wielding woman representing the motherland.

Later, at a memorial concert, Putin gave a rousing speech to attendants.

"Stalingrad will forever remain a symbol of the invincibility of the Russian people and the unity of the Russian people. And as long as we are devoted to ourselves, our history, our country, our language, our culture and our national memory, Russia will remain invincible."

The city, 900 kilometres south of Moscow, suffered six months of intensive fighting, beginning with massive air strikes, as Nazi forces tried to push deep into the Soviet Union and reach its Caucasus oil fields.

At least 1.2 million people are estimated to have died before the fighting ended on February 2, 1943.

The Red Army's defeat of the Nazis after house-to-house battling was a decisive turn in World War II.

Two Australian Senior Cabinet Ministers Resign
Two senior cabinet ministers have resigned just four days after Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announcing a national election date.

The country's first female Attorney-General Nicola Roxon will step down along with Chris Evans, who as Senate Leader is the third in line to the prime ministership.

Both ministers cited demands of the job and family reasons for their decisions.

Chris Evans says he is confident the Labor Party will win in the election.

"I leave knowing that the government is in good shape, would not have left if it wasn't. I would not have left if I thought it would do any harm to the party or the government and I am very confident of our chances of success at the next federal election."

Local media described the resignations as a severe blow for the ruling Labor Party, saying they undermined Gillard's message of stability and a lack of confidence in ability to win a third term.

However, Gillard puts on a brave face at a news conference in Canberra, saying she has known of the impending resignations for some time.

"But there are some incredibly big shoes to fill and it does give me an opportunity now to promote some fresh talent with fresh ideas into the government's executive and I'm very pleased to do so. It means that we will be able to present to Australian people a rejuvenated team as we move into the parliamentary year in 2013."

Opinion polls show Tony Abbott's opposition Liberal-National party well ahead of the government and Gillard would be swept from office if an election were held now.

The next general election is set for September.

Falkland Islands Govt Regrets Breakdown of UK and Argentine FM Meeting
The Falkland Islands government says it regretted that Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman would refuse to meet them next week when he visits the UK.

The comment comes as Argentine Foreign Ministry announced that they would not participate in any discussions that included Falklands government representatives.

Timerman is expected to meet up with British foreign secretary William Hague to discuss the recent disputes over the islands.

Government officials of the Falkland Islands are also expected at the meeting.

Jan Cheek is a member of the Falkland Islands' Legislative Assembly.

"It's disappointing, but not entirely unexpected because the stance of Argentina has, for a long time been not only to ignore the wishes of the people who have lived on these islands for nearly a hundred and eighty years, but to virtually ignore their existence."

However, the Argentine Foreign Minister insists that United Nations regards the dispute over the islands as a bilateral issue between London and Buenos Aires.

While the Islands are internally self-governing, the UK continues to have sovereignty.

Argentina meanwhile claims that the Islands are theirs, and have requested that the UK government enter into negotiations over their sovereignty.

Last month, Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner urged the British Prime Minister David Cameron to abide by a 1965 UN resolution to negotiate a solution to the dispute.

Venezuela VP: Chavez Gradually Recovering From Cancer Treament
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro says the country's president Hugo Chavez is gradually recovering from his cancer treatment in Cuba.

"We have passed complex moments. Fortunately the postoperative cycle is over. The president has entered into a new phase in the treatment for his disease, and is recovering gradually, gaining strength."

The comments came during a discussion about a book, called "Before I Forget," about the noted Marxist scholar Ali Rodriguez. President Chavez wrote the book's foreword.

Chavez is under medical treatment in Cuba after his fourth cancer surgery in December.

He hasn't appeared or spoken publicly since before his December 11 operation for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer.

The 58-year-old president won re-election in October, and lawmakers indefinitely put off his January 10 inauguration.

The decision was condemned by the opposition but upheld by the Supreme Court.

4 Arrested for Defying San Francisco's Nudity Ban
Four naked protesters have been arrested for violating a city ban on public nudity in the US city of San Francisco.
The protesters took to the steps of San Francisco City Hall in a brazen challenge to the ban on Friday, the first day it went into effect.

One woman and three men were taken into custody as about a dozen other protesters in various states of undress paraded around.

Police gave them a 15-minute warning to disperse or put clothes on before officers arrested those who failed to cover themselves.

Police spokesman Albie Esparza said the arrests were simply to enforce compliance with the law.

"We want to admonish as many people as possible and try to gain compliance. We're not here to arrest and cite people if we don't have to, but if we have to, we will enforce the law."

But the protesters said the arrests would advance the cause of "body freedom."

"I can tell you that they might be a little more timid right now because we have 45 days to file again for this lawsuit. But no matter what, we're going to continue practising body freedom. We're not going to go away."

In December, the city government of San Francisco decided to prohibit exposing genitals in most public places, including streets, pavements and public transport.

A federal judge has ruled that nudity is not protected free speech and upheld the city's ban on most displays of public nudity.

Protesters have vowed to appeal the judge's decision.

Tourists Flock to Rio for Carnival
Tourists from all over the world have been flocking to the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro a week before the opening of the annual Carnival there.

At Copacabana Beach, carnival dancers were handing tourists pamphlets about pre-carnival events.

At the Sambadrome, where samba schools will compete for the best show, tourists have the opportunity to dress up in feathers and glitter and have a go at the famous dance.

Roxanne del Gadillo is one of the revelers visiting from Argentina.

"We have been practicing with the music, dancing, dressed up for the party."

This year, Rio has authorized about 500 street parties around the city, both before and during the Carnival.

Eighty-eight percent of the city's hotel rooms are booked up, according to the Brazilian Industry Hotel Association.

This year's Carnival will kick off on February 8 and last for five days. It's expected to attract five million revelers.

As part of the festivities, the Brazilian Health Ministry has launched its annual AIDS prevention campaign.

Hellen Miyamoto, Rio de Janeiro Under-Secretary for Health, also reminded partygoers about the importance of safe sex.

"Enjoy Carnival with responsibility. Be happy during the party but remember the responsibilities we have."

Meanwhile, Brazilian authorities have been inspecting night spots around the country as part of a crackdown on unsafe public spaces after a recent nightclub fire that left hundreds dead.

Rio is expected to spend more than 17 million US dollars on the Carnival.

Xinhua: Western Sanctions Fail to Curb Iran's Nuke Program

A newly released document by the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency shows that Iran plans to install more advanced centrifuges at a main uranium enrichment facility near the central town of Natanz.

The planned equipment upgrade is the latest counter-strike by Tehran against tough Western sanctions.

A commentary by China's Xinhua News Agency says the development highlights the fact that penalties have so far failed to curb Iran's nuclear program but pushed Iran further away from the negotiation table.

The article notes that Western countries have imposed increasingly stringent sanctions on Iran since last year to thwart what they say Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power.

But the commentary points out that a vicious circle seems to be taking shape over Iran's nuclear program. That is "tougher Western sanctions have aroused Tehran's stronger desire to push forward its uranium enrichment program, which in turn prompts the West to consider further punishment."

The Xinhua commentary says this situation makes a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue a distant dream.

In conclusion, Xinhua urges both Iran and Western countries to ponder the ramifications of their policies and take concrete actions to restore their long-stalled talks, instead of playing a game of chicken.

China Daily: Kerry Rekindles Hope

Democratic Senator John Kerry has been sworn in as America's Secretary of State, two hour after Hillary Clinton left office.

The new US top diplomat is known for his pragmatism and experience.

The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate has been chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee since 2009. Over the last four years, he has been an unofficial envoy to various hotspots including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, throughout his Senate years, Kerry has also generally voted for bills that aim to strengthen the bilateral relationship between China and the US and opposed those that would undermine it. And it prompted some analysts saying Kerry may take a more rational approach toward China-US relations.

An editorial on China Daily says that in the past years, the US has taken substantial steps to implement its strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific, which has worked to stir up tensions in the region.

But at last week's hearing, Kerry said he supports deeper ties with China and is unconvinced the US needs to ramp up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The editorial says his stance has been interpreted as a positive signal.

Meanwhile, in terms of the US Middle East policy, the editorial says the Obama administration has restored to intervention and sanctions to tackle major crises, which leads to an anti-US sentiment in the region.

The article says Kerry will be tested on how he will respond to calls for a readjustment of the country's policy in the Middle East, as if the US intends to make a major diplomatic breakthrough, it needs to opt for a more engaging and compromising approach.