Sunday, September 14, 2014

Venezuela inflation at 63%; Asia faces 'risk of choking skies'; Scotland inspires 'Free Okinawa' movement

1 Venezuela inflation at 63% (BBC) Venezuela's annual inflation rate has risen to 63.4%, the highest in Latin America, according to official figures. The figures are the first released by the central bank since May, which has led critics to accuse the government of withholding data for political reasons.

The poor state of the economy, among other issues, triggered mass anti-government protests earlier this year. They have since died down, but many continue to grapple with shortages. The central bank did not publish its scarcity index, a measure of goods that are missing from store shelves, but shortages of basic items such as flour, milk and toilet paper continue to be the bane of many shoppers.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro blamed the soaring inflation on the protests, which rocked the country earlier in the year. Officials have argued that roadblocks erected by opposition activists hampered trade, and violent clashes between protesters and the security forces often forced shops to close early.

2 Asia faces ‘risk of choking skies’ (Karamjit Kaur in Straits Times) Widespread flight delays could hit Asia, including Singapore, in as little as five years if countries in the region do not act now and move as one to cope with growing flight numbers, warns the head of a leading air traffic research institute.

At worst, "catastrophic gridlock" will lead to stagnation in the number of flights in Asia because air traffic controllers cannot cope with additional flights, said Mr Hsin Chen Chung, who heads the Air Traffic Management Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

"The situation right now is barely tolerable in some pockets of the region... If we don't do anything, my guess is that in five to 10 years, we will experience what Europe went through 15 years ago - catastrophic gridlock." He cited the routes from Singapore to Jakarta, Bangkok and Hong Kong; Bangkok to Hong Kong; and from Asia to Europe as examples of busy air paths that could develop into choke points.

3 Scotland inspires ‘Free Okinawa’ move (Justin McCurry in The Guardian) Campaigners from Okinawa are expected in Scotland to seek inspiration from the yes campaign as they look to boost support for making the southern Japanese island an independent nation.

While Okinawa's movement is tiny compared with its counterpart in Scotland, activists say they stand to benefit from mounting public anger over Tokyo's plans to push through the construction of a controversial US military base in defiance of local opposition.

Masaki Tomochi, a professor of economics at Okinawa International University and a leading figure in the independence movement, and his colleagues will tour Scotland meeting voters, academics and Scottish National party officials.

The history of Okinawa, Tomochi argues, is one of bloody sacrifice at mainland Japan's behest, and collusion between Tokyo and Washington, beginning with a secret postwar agreement to allow the US to bring nuclear weapons to the island and maintain military bases there indefinitely. The 2012 deployment of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft on the island, and the relocation of a military base have added to popular resentment towards Tokyo.

"The only way we can fix this is to declare our independence from Japan and go back to the way we were before Japan used force to take the islands," he said. Okinawa covers about 0.6% of Japan's land area, but is home to more than half the 47,000 US troops in the country and three-quarters of US bases. Some residents depend on the US military for employment, but campaigners say the bases emasculate the local economy, the poorest of Japan's 47 prefectures.

The Okinawa island chain once formed an independent kingdom, known as the Ryukyus, until it was forcibly annexed by Japan in 1879. The island was the scene one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, claiming the lives of 240,000 people, including US troops and about a quarter of the civilian population. US occupation authorities did not return the territory to Japanese control until 1972.

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