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Sunday, 8 April 2012

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Mali coup leaders to stand down as part of Ecowas deal

Coup leaders in Mali have agreed to stand down and allow a transition to civilian rule, as part of a deal struck with regional bloc Ecowas. In return, the bloc will lift trade and economic sanctions and grant amnesty to the ruling junta, mediators said.

The move came after Tuareg rebels in the north declared independence of territory they call Azawad. The rebels seized the area after a coup two weeks ago plunged the West African nation into political crisis. Under the terms of transition plan, military rulers will cede power to the parliamentary speaker, Diouncounda Traore, who as interim president will oversee a timetable for elections.

Once sworn in, Mr Traore would have 40 days to organise elections, the five-page agreement says. The agreement says that Ecowas would immediately prepare for the lifting of the tough sanctions it imposed on Mali earlier this week.

However, it doesn’t specify when Captain Amadou Sanogo would effectively hand over power to the head of the national assembly.

The sooner the better. The northern crisis will probably not be addressed before a legitimate government is in place in Bamako but the situation is now critical.

Tuareg-led rebels have declared independent a vast land of lawlessness and confusion from which at least half the population, already impoverished, fled either south or across borders into neighbouring countries.


China warns military to ignore internet rumours

China’s official military newspaper has warned soldiers to ignore internet rumours and maintain absolute loyalty to the party. This follows the arrest of six people and closure of 16 websites last week, after rumours of a coup spread online.

A leftwing website that expressed support for dismissed political leader Bo Xilai has also been shut. The moves are believe to be linked to China’s leadership change later this year. The front page commentary in the Liberation Army Daily called on the army to “pay great attention to the impacts of the internet and mobile phones on the mind and thoughts of soldiers”, and to manage internet systems in the barracks.

It stressed “the party’s absolute leadership over the army”, telling troops to “resist all kinds of erroneous ideological invasion, noise disturbance... and not [be] moved by undercurrents”. The commentary did not mention the internet rumours of a coup last week.

China will face a once in a decade leadership reshuffle later this year. However, the sacking of Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing who was tipped for promotion, has revealed political divisions behind the scenes.


America’s jobs report Disappointing but not yet déja vu

The American jobs data released today will inevitably draw worrisome thoughts of déja vu. In both 2010 and 2011, the economy showed promising signs of growth early on only to see them peter out by summer time. This year, the hope went, would be different: employment rose an average of 246,000 per month in December through February. Economists had expected similar-sized gains in March.

In fact, non-farm employment rose just 120,000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The unemployment rate did dip, to 8.2%, a three year low, from 8.3%. But that was primarily because the labour force shrank, by 164,000 people. The household survey, which is more volatile than the payroll survey, showed the number of people employed falling 31,000 from February. So the unemployment rate fell for the wrong reasons.

Inevitably, this will draw comparisons to both 2010 and 2011. The background is eerily familiar: in the last few weeks, there has been a revival of worries about Europe, just as in 2010, and a sharp rise in oil prices, just as last year. It is troubling that retail trade was the weakest sector, shedding 33,800 jobs after a similar-sized loss in February; that might be evidence of $4 a gallon petrol biting into disposable incomes.

I think it’s premature to say it’s deja vu all over again. First, 120,000, while well below expectations, is still above the trend growth rate of less than 100,000 and better than what was recorded during the air pockets of 2010 and 2011. Second, some of the prior months’ gains were probably artificially bolstered by good weather; private estimates put the effect at as much as 75,000 to 100,000 jobs. While it’s difficult to be certain, some of March’s disappointment was probably payback. Construction, for example, shed 7,000 jobs.

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