Mass pro-democracy protest marches in Bahrain

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis demonstrated on Friday to demand democratic reforms, stepping up pressure on the US-allied government with the biggest protest yet in a year of unrest.

They began marching along a highway near Manama in response to a call from leading Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who urged people to renew their calls for greater democracy. A live blog showed images of the protesters carrying banners denouncing “dictatorship” and demanding the release of detainees.

“We are here for the sake of our just demands that we cannot make concessions over and we stick with them because we have sacrificed for them,” Sheikh Isa Qassim said before the march in his weekly sermon in the Shi’ite village of Diraz.

Qassim and other Shi’ite clerics led the march.

“It is the biggest demonstration in the past year. I would say it could be over 100,000,” said a Reuters photographer after protesters filled up the main Budaiya highway in the area of Diraz and Saar, west of Manama…

The government, pressed by its Western allies to allow peaceful expression of dissent, has allowed more opposition protests in recent months…

Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has remained mired in crisis and Shi’ite youths clash daily with riot police. The unrest has slowed the economy in what used to be a major tourism and banking hub…

Pro-government Sunni groups have organized smaller counter-rallies, warning authorities not to enter into a dialogue on reforms that could give the elected parliament legislative clout and the power to form governments.

Those groups look to Sunni power Saudi Arabia as a key ally and demonize the opposition as loyal to Iran, a charge the opposition parties deny. Analysts say Riyadh does not want Bahrain to agree to reforms that empower Shi’ites…

Qassim said Friday’s march would show how strong the opposition was. “The march will either prove you are only an isolated minority making demands, or that the demands are widely popular,” he said in his sermon…

No, the Arab spring hasn’t gone away. Nor have the repressive policies of those who would rule as royalty and the voice of religion.

Minority rule over a majority population hardly leads to any more peace than does suppression of the rights of a significant minority. When that minority flies the flag of religion as justification for their opposition to democracy and civil rights, they are even less likely to survive the real tests of time and a people’s quest for freedom.

Coke and Pepsi change recipes to avoid printing cancer warning

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are changing the recipes for their drinks to avoid being legally obliged to put a cancer warning label on the bottle.

The new recipe for caramel colouring in the drinks has less 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) – a chemical which California has added to its list of carcinogens. The change to the recipe has already been introduced in California but will be rolled out across the US.

Coca-Cola says there is no health risk to justify the change. Spokeswoman Diana Garza-Ciarlante told the Associated Press news agency they wanted to ensure their products “would not be subject to the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning”…

The chemical has been linked to cancer in mice and rats, according to one study, but there is no evidence that it poses a health risk to humans, said the American Beverage Association, which represents the wider industry.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims a person would need to drink more than 1,000 cans of Coke or Pepsi a day to take in the same dose of the chemical that was given to the animals in the lab test…

It said that apart from California “not one single regulatory agency around the world considers the exposure of the public to 4-MEI as present in caramels as an issue”.

There’s no truth to the rumor that California is going to require signs posted on popular beaches that skimpy bathing suits cause pregnancy.

China will begin offering RMB credits for the BRICs

China is planning to extend renminbi loans to other major emerging BRIC countries in another step toward the expansion of the yuan’s role in foreign exchange, the Financial Times reports.

The China Development Bank (CDB) will sign a memorandum of understanding at a meeting with its Brics counterparts – Russia, South Africa, Brazil and India – in New Delhi on March 29…Under the agreement CDB, which lends mainly in dollars overseas, will make renminbi loans available, while the other Brics nations’ development banks will also extend loans denominated in their respective currencies, the FT said in an article published on its website.

The renminbi is the official currency of China and its primary unit is the yuan. Of the six largest economies in the world, China is the only one whose currency does not have reserve status.

The initiative aims to boost trade between the five Brics nations and promote use of the renminbi, rather than the US dollar, for international trade and cross-border lending, the FT said… Makes sense to me.

BNDES, Brazil’s development bank, and South Africa’s finance ministry were cited by the FT as saying they expected an agreement to be signed at the New Delhi meeting which would include the lending pledge, with details to be ironed out during a summit.

Other signatories would include Russia’s Vnesheconombank, the Export-Import Bank of India and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, according to the article.

Over the next decade the word of this will gradually be included in monthly briefing notes to members of the US Congress. I imagine that sooner or later another aspect of global commerce and monetary policy will sink in. Slowly.

Probably bring them up to about 1929.

Germany’s dillweed president bounced in less than 2 years — gets golden parachute worth $380,000 a year!

Germans still love a good parade, don’t they?
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Germany’s disgraced president has stepped down following a full military honours ceremony and pocketing an annual pension and perks package worth over $380,000 after less than two years in the job.

Christian Wulff, 52, was forced to resign after state prosecutors demanded his presidential immunity was lifted as part of a corruption investigation, a scandal that has deeply damaged Angela Merkel’s government.

Controversial to the last, there is widespread anger that Mr Wulff was granted a grand tattoo of German military bands on Thursday night to play him out of office to the tune, at his request, of “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.

The torch lit parade by hundreds of Bundeswehr soldiers in front of the grandeur of Berlin’s presidential Bellevue Palace is a further embarrassment for the German Chancellor who attended the ceremony in spite of a boycott by four former presidents and opposition politicians.

Somebody who failed in office is having a farewell ceremony as if he did great things for Germany,” said Sigmar Gabriel the head of the Social Democrat Party.

Despite resigning amid serious corruption allegations, the former president will be entitled to a personal pension of $264,000 a year, as well as a chauffeured limousine and cash to run a staffed office…

Many Germans are angry that, even after being disgraced, Mr Wulff will be entitled to an income which is 16 times the average pension and five times the median salary in Germany.

Another corrupt politician in a useless office — kicked out and gets to take a chunk of the national treasury with him for snuggles and giggles. Ridiculous. Will his peers do anything about it. What do you think?

We had a similar send-off here in New Mexico for Manny Aragon when he stepped down from his longtime position of leadership in the state legislature – to take a little vacation in prison for kickbacks, bribery and corruption. Ain’t anything changed here either.