Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rio state declares financial emergency; India central bank guv declines second term; Assange begins fifth year in Ecuador embassy

1 Rio state declares financial emergency (BBC) The Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro has declared a financial emergency less than 50 days before the Olympics. Interim Governor Francisco Dornelles says the "serious economic crisis" threatens to stop the state from honouring commitments for the Games.

Most public funding for the Olympics has come from Rio's city government, but the state is responsible for areas such as transport and policing. Interim President Michel Temer has promised significant financial help.

The governor has blamed the crisis on a tax shortfall, especially from the oil industry, while Brazil overall has faced a deep recession. The measure could accelerate the release of federal emergency funds. Rio state employees and pensioners are owed wages in arrears. Hospitals and police stations have been severely affected.

The state has projected a budget deficit of $5.5bn for this year.  There are also concerns over an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects, and the impact it could have on the city's tourism. Rio expects about 500,000 foreign visitors during the Olympics.

2 India central bank guv declines second term (San Francisco Chronicle) The governor of India's central bank has said he will not seek a second term and will return to academia when his term ends in September.

Raghuram Rajan's announcement ends speculation over whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will give him another three-year term with India's economy growing at an impressive 7.5 percent. That made India the world's fastest-growing major economy, overtaking China's growth in the January-March quarter.

Rajan was appointed the Reserve Bank of India's governor by the previous Congress party government three years ago. Some leaders of Modi's Hindu nationalist party recently criticized him for adopting a hard line against inflation despite pressure to cut interest rates to push India's economic growth.

Subramanian Swamy, a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has attacked Rajan for his hawkish stance on interest rates, and questioned whether Rajan was "mentally, fully Indian as he holds a US green card”. Since becoming head of the central bank, Rajan has been on leave as a professor of finance at the University of Chicago.

Rajan, who was chief economist at the International Monetary Fund from 2003 to 2007, said in his message, "I am an academic and I have always made it clear that my ultimate home is in the realm of ideas." He also said he "will, of course, always be available to serve my country when needed."

3 Assange starts fifth year in Ecuador embassy (The Guardian) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange starts his fifth year camped out in the Ecuadoran embassy in London on Sunday, an occasion his supporters said they would mark with events celebrating whistleblowers.

Assange, 44, is wanted for questioning over a 2010 rape allegation in Sweden but has been inside Ecuador’s UK mission for four full years in a bid to avoid extradition. The anti-secrecy campaigner, who denies the allegation, walked into the embassy of his own free will on 18 June, 2012, with Britain on the brink of sending him to Stockholm, and has not left since.

His lawyers say he is angry that Swedish prosecutors are still maintaining the European arrest warrant against him. The Australian former computer hacker fears that from Sweden he could be extradited to the US over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files, where he could face a long prison sentence.

Veteran film-maker Loach said Britain’s legal system was “being manipulated to keep a brave man in isolation” and that “all who care about freedom of information should demand that the threats made against Julian should be lifted.

A hero to supporters and a dangerous egocentric to detractors, Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and has been portrayed in two films in recent years. Assange has compared living inside the embassy – which has no garden but is in the plush Knightsbridge district, near Harrods department store – to life on a space station.

His 4.6 by 4 metre room is divided into an office and a living area. He has a treadmill, shower, microwave and sun lamp and spends most of his day at his computer. He got a cat in May to give him some company.

Assange is calling for Britain to leave the European Union in Thursday’s referendum on its membership of the bloc. He alleges British authorities “repeatedly use the EU as political cover for its own decision-making”, highlighting the European arrest warrant.

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