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US national security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters at the White House in Washington
Bolton says Iran silence on US talks offer ‘deafening’
25 June 2019, 12:07 PM

US National Security Advisor John Bolton on Tuesday described as “deafening” Iran’s apparent silence on an offer to negotiate with Washington.

“The president has held the door open to real negotiations,” Bolton said in a statement.

“In response, Iran’s silence has been deafening,” he added during a visit to Jerusalem.

The United States imposed sanctions Monday on Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and others, which the Iranian foreign ministry said meant a “permanent closure of the path to diplomacy” with the US administration.

Tensions are running high after Iran shot down a US spy drone last week and Trump considered, then cancelled, a retaliatory strike.

Bolton said Tuesday the US remains open to negotiations, more than a year after Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

“All that Iran needs to do is to walk though that open door,” he said.

But Iran’s president said Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on senior officials including its top diplomat proved the US was “lying” about talks.

“At the same time as you call for negotiations you seek to sanction the foreign minister? It’s obvious that you’re lying,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a meeting with ministers broadcast live on TV.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket
SpaceX launches Falcon Heavy rocket with 24 satellites
25 June 2019, 11:00 AM

SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying 24 experimental satellites in what Elon Musk’s rocket company called one of the most difficult launches it has attempted.

The craft blasted off to cheers from onlookers at 2:30 am (0630 GMT) after a three-hour delay from the original launch time late Monday.

The boosters separated safely and the craft began its six-hour mission to deploy the satellites.

The mission, dubbed Space Test Program 2 (STP-2), is the third one for the Falcon heavy rocket, described as the most powerful launch system in the world.

It was commissioned by the US Department of Defence, the key contractor for commercial space companies such as SpaceX.

The company is putting satellites into orbit for various agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), various defence department laboratories, universities and a non-profit, SpaceX said.

Authorities inside the Manus Island refugee camp in Papua New Guinea walk around the camp serving deportation notices to detainees.
Papua New Guinea demands end to Australia refugee contract
25 June 2019, 9:48 AM

Australia must end or completely rework a controversial multi-million dollar contract to manage refugees stuck in tropical island camps, Papua New Guinea’s prime minister demanded on Tuesday.

“I will ask the Australian government to stop this contract forthwith,” James Marape told parliament, saying the arrangement should be “reviewed to the fullest, or we ask for this contract to be terminated”.

Marape said the Paladin Group’s contract to manage facilities on Manus Island holding around 500 refugees and asylum seekers turned away by Australia must include local companies.

The contract, worth over Aus$400 million (US$280) over the last two years, has been the subject of deep controversy.

From 2012 to 2017 Australia ran detention facilities on Manus under a hardline policy of turning back anyone trying to arrive in the country by sea — including refugees fleeing wars and unrest as far afield as Sudan and Iranian Kurdistan.

But after the PNG Supreme Court ruled the arrangement unconstitutional, Australia handed the camps over to local authorities, with daily management of security and other operations given to Paladin, a little-known private company, under a contract issued without any competitive tender.

The 500 men still on Manus have been in the island camps for at least five years.

In recent weeks the camps have seen a rash of suicide attempts as refugees and asylum seekers try to draw international attention to their plight.

The Paladin contract — which reportedly does not include food or medical care — has been backed by Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton — who has advocated for an extension.

Marape seemed to shoot down that possibility, at least without significant revisions.

“We don’t intend for foreign contractors to operate here in business like security. These are businesses that local companies can participate in, ” he told a regular session of question time.

Marape called on his foreign affairs and immigration ministers to convey his message to Canberra “at the earliest”.

A man walks past a share index board
Stocks suffer trade jitters, dollar braced for more Fed talk
25 June 2019, 6:12 AM

Asian shares were hamstrung by trade worries Tuesday as expectations of more dovish talk from the Federal Reserve pushed down Treasury yields and the dollar, while propelling gold prices to six-year peaks.

Investors are waiting anxiously to see if anything comes of Sino-US trade talks later this week, though sentiment was not helped by reports US President Donald Trump would be content with “any outcome”.

Trump is slated to meet one-on-one with at least eight world leaders at the G20 summit in Osaka, including China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chinese investors seemed none too hopeful as Shanghai blue chips slipped 1.8%. That led MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down 0.4%.

Japan’s Nikkei dipped 0.2%, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 edged down 0.18%.

Wall Street had been just as cautious with the Dow ending Monday up 0.03%, while the S&P 500 lost 0.17% and the Nasdaq 0.32%.

There are no less than five Fed policy makers speaking on Tuesday, including Chair Jerome Powell, and markets assume they will stick with the recent dovish message.

“It’s always possible the chair could walk back some of the market’s dovish interpretation of last week’s FOMC meeting…but we suspect he will reinforce the message laid out last week,” said Kevin Cummins, a senior US economist at NatWest Markets.

“By the end of July, we believe the Fed will have seen enough to decide that action to counter downside economic risks and low inflation/inflation expectations are warranted, and so we look for a 25 basis point rate cut at the next FOMC meeting.”

Markets are running well ahead of that. Futures are fully priced for a quarter-point easing and imply a real chance of a half-point move.

A total 100 basis points of cuts are implied by mid-2020, a major reason two-year yields are well under cash at 1.745%.

GOLD SOARS

Yields on 10-year Treasuries have dived 120 basis points since November and, at 2.01%, are almost back to where they were before Trump was elected in late 2016.

The speed and scale of the latest decline has seen the dollar fall for four sessions in a row against a basket of other currencies to stand at a three-month low of 95.937.

“USD DXY now looks likely to break through the March low of 95.76 and below there 95.0,” said Tapas Strickland, a markets strategist at NAB.

“The drivers here continue to be heightened expectations of the Fed cutting rates – now 3.1 cuts priced by years’ end,” he said, noting that a number of index trackers showed the data flow from the United States was now showing more disappointing misses than Europe.

The euro has climbed to its highest in three months and was last holding firm at $1.1403, within striking distance of the March top of $1.1448.

Against the safe-haven yen, the dollar has hit its lowest since the January flash crash and was last at 107.06 yen.

The pullback in the dollar combined with lower yields globally has put a fire under gold, which touched a six-year top. The metal is up 12% since early May at $1,1425.02 an ounce, with the next target the 2013 top of $1,433. [GOL/]

Oil prices lost some ground on Tuesday, after rising sharply last week in reaction to tensions between the United States and Iran. [O/R]

Brent crude futures eased 51 cents to $64.35, while US crude fell 51 cents to $57.39 a barrel.

Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi
Benin’s former president Boni Yayi leaves amid political crisis
25 June 2019, 6:04 AM

Benin’s former president Thomas Boni Yayi was in Togo on Sunday having left effective house arrest in his homeland for health reasons, his representatives said, as political crisis grips the nation following controversial April polls.

Boni Yayi left on Saturday after “his health deteriorated rapidly”, Noureni Atchade, spokesperson for his Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party, said in an interview with Radio France Internationale, without giving details.

Though Yayi headed for Togo’s capital Lome, party officials said that was not his final destination.

“We can’t say for now which country he will head to for medical treatment but he has already left Benin,” said Atchade

The former leader’s surprise departure came after weeks of tension with President Patrice Talon, which saw Boni Yayi confined to his northern Benin home.

“This is the end of the humiliating treatment inflicted” on Yayi, said another former Benin president Nicephore Soglo.

“The struggle is not in vain,” he added, saying that many African leaders, including Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari had added their weight to the efforts to free Yayi from house arrest.

Authoritarian turn?

Protests first erupted in Benin after April 28 parliamentary elections. Several people have died in clashes with police who resorted to gunfire.

The crisis has stoked concerns of an authoritarian turn in a country once seen as a democratic example in the region.

The voting took place without any opposition candidate, and all 83 members of parliament now come from the only two parties allowed to take part, both allied to Talon.

Changes to electoral rules had effectively barred opposition parties from fielding candidates.

The demonstrators had demanded the lifting of a police cordon around Boni Yayi’s house in the country’s economic capital Cotonou.

The former president left the country without giving an explanation to the authorities, the party spokesperson said, while stressing that he was not evading justice.

War of egos

In early June, Boni Yayi had received a court summons which his lawyers refused due to his health problems and the stress of his home being surrounded by security forces.

The republican police on Saturday announced that Cadjehoun, the district of Cotonou where Boni Yayi’s house is, was “free of any police presence” following negotiations between Talon and traditional leaders and officials from Save and Tchaourou, Boni Yayi’s hometown.

Talon on Friday said he had “taken steps” to resolve the political crisis.

“I do not have a personal problem with Boni Yayi,” Talon said, adding he was “a friend”.

Most high-profile opponents of Talon now live in exile, fearing legal action against them if they return.

Boni Yayi had been seen as a symbol of opposition staying put in the country. He had denounced an “electoral coup” following the April polls, calling for the results to be annulled and for the people to rise up.

“The socio-political life of Benin has for a few years been a prisoner in the war of egos between two individuals: Patrice Talon and Boni Yayi,” said political scientist Expedit B. Ologou, president of the CiAAF analysis centre, based in Cotonou.

When Boni Yayi was president (2006-2016), Talon was himself forced into exile between 2012 and 2015, accused of “attempted poisoning” against the head of state.

However, political analyst Gilles Yabi, founder of the Wathi think tank, said “it would be simplistic to think that the political crisis in Benin is a fight between two men.”

“There seems to be a systematic and methodical plan to control the institutions and the political scene of the country,” he told AFP.

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