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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

‘Extremism propaganda’: Siberian region bans Halloween in schools

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Young people wearing makeup for Halloween celebration in Moscow. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
Young people wearing makeup for Halloween celebration in Moscow. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
 
 
Authorities in Russia’s Omsk region in Siberia have prohibited Halloween celebrations in local schools on the grounds it “promotes extremism” and a “death cult” that can harm the moral health of children.
The Education Ministry in the Omsk region sent letters to local state schools telling them to take measures to curb any events marking Halloween, which is celebrated on October 31, the eve of All Hallows’ Day.
The move is aimed at the prevention of the development of extremism among children and young people, the ministry said in a statement. The decision followed an appeal from a public organization called “Omsk Parents’ Council”. 
Educational institutions must carry out activities “based on cultural values of Russian people,” believes the regional Education Minister, Sergey Alekseyev, the body quotes. He said the ministry will improve “methodological support” in the organization of students’ leisure activities. Also, plans are afoot to impose tougher controls over the planning of celebrations in schools.
The ministry cites studies by two institutes affiliated with the Russian Academy of Education, which found that celebrating Halloween has a negative impact on students as well as the teaching process. Because of “elements of mystics” and the “propaganda of death cult” in the celebrations, they can lead to “devastating consequences for the spiritual and moral health of students,” experts stated.
The ministry provides no information about the names of the authors of the research, or the title of the study, conducted by the institutes which are not among Russia’s top establishments.
Moscow schools will not celebrate Halloween either, according to newsru.com. Even though the capital’s authorities have given no instructions on the matter this year, local schools are following directives issued by Moscow’s Education Department several years ago. It recommended refraining from having any kind of festive activities on this day. 

A kid holds a pumpkin during a flashmob marking Halloween celebrations at St. Petersburg's Palace Square. (RIA Novosti / Olga Maltseva)
A kid holds a pumpkin during a flashmob marking Halloween celebrations at St. Petersburg's Palace Square. (RIA Novosti / Olga Maltseva)
Authorities in the Krasnodar region in southern Russia also think that local school children should not take part in the celebrations, reported the local eparchy website, citing the regional education minister. Events were banned last year and the ban remains in place. 
According to many scientists – psychologists and psychiatrists – Halloween is dangerous for children. Children who have taken part in such events often feel fear, depression, aggression and a suicidal mood,” the Ekaterinodar and Kuban Eparchy quotes a letter by the ministry.
Halloween, which has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival, for decades has been celebrated in North America, but has also gained popularity among Russian youth in recent years. While some see the holiday as just a masquerade and a way to have fun, opponents consider such an “alien” festival as a threat to Russian traditional culture.
One would think what’s wrong about this pumpkin with holes? But in fact it is simply hidden Satanism,” a priest from Vladivostok, Father Tikhon told RIA Novosti. He urged everyone to hold back from Halloween, “to run away from it”. 
Senior Orthodox Church official Archpriest, Vsevolod Chaplin, has also warned against joining the festivities. “Dark forces” often try to make a person believe that they do not exist and “kind of play with them”.
But evil spirits always wins in their games. So, in reality it only seems to people that [this game] is only a fun and a harmless gag,” the cleric said. “Dark forces think otherwise and will definitely ‘make fun’ of you so that you won’t be happy about that at all.
Organizers of Halloween events totally disagree, saying that the festival – which has both historic and religious roots – has now turned into a fancy dress party.
Youth all over the world actively celebrate this holiday. Many say that it’s their favorite one after the New Year,” an organizer of a Halloween party at one of Moscow’s cinemas, Elena Preobrazhenskaya, told Mir24.tv. She said they had their party earlier this week, but it appeared to be so popular that it was decided to hold another one, as well as a separate party for children.
A fancy ball gives you an opportunity to think of a carnival image, a costume, unusual make-up and have fun,” Preobrazhenskaya said.
Children love Halloween a lot more than adults, “they are not interested in just watching from sidelines, they want to participate,” in this “bright and unusual festival” that is growing in popularity.  

Japan to scrutinize lenders after Mizuho gangster link

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A woman walks in front of a signboard of Japan's Mizuho Financial Group in Tokyo (AFP Photo / Kazuhiro Nogi)
A woman walks in front of a signboard of Japan's Mizuho Financial Group in Tokyo (AFP Photo / Kazuhiro Nogi)
 
 
Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) plans to inspect the country’s biggest banks, after the second largest lender Mizuho was accused of allowing above 200 million yen ($2 million) in loans to organized crime.
Among the Japanese banks in the firing line are the country’s biggest lender by assets Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho Financial Group and No. 3 bank Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, Associated Press reports.
The inspection by the FSA will be carried out next week and focus on compliance and risk management.
The move comes after an independent panel reported on Monday that its probe found Mizuho lax in cleaning up more than 200 million yen ($2 million) in lending, mostly auto loans, to clients associated with "anti-social" elements, a byword for organized crime.
Last month the FSA demanded Mizuho presented a strategy of "improvements" to its lending business. Japan's second largest lender has pledged to end the loans, step up anti-mob screening of incoming business, tighten corporate governance, and improve internal awareness of preventing dealings with those linked to organized crime.
On top of that the Mizuho Financial Group said on Monday the chairman of its banking business and two other top executives will resign. Bank President Yasuhiro Sato, will remain at his post but give up six months of pay. The bank is also appointing Tatsuo Kainaka, a former prosecutor and Supreme Court judge with a reputation for toughness, to be its chief compliance officer. 
Complying with a gesture which is widespread in corporate Japan Sato and other top executives bowed deeply in apology.
"We caused a great deal of trouble and I want to express my deepest apologies,'" Sato said.  "I am aware there are various opinions about this, but this is what was decided in this case," Sato said when asked if the penalties were too weak.
Mizuho troubles reflect the difficulties financial corporations across the country face trying to avoid dealings with Japanese gangs, known as the “yakudza.” They are entrenched in many areas of the economy despite efforts to freeze them out of the financial system.
 

Russia to invest $1.5bn in Ecuador energy

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Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa shows his oil-covered hand at Aguarico 4 oil well in Aguarico, Ecuador (AFP Photo / Rodrigo Buendia)
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa shows his oil-covered hand at Aguarico 4 oil well in Aguarico, Ecuador (AFP Photo / Rodrigo Buendia)
 
 
Russia plans to invest up to $1.5 billion into new domestic energy projects in Ecuador, making the South American country a key partner in the region, President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in Moscow.
The two countries have several ongoing energy projects, including state-owned Gazprom’s alliance with Ecuador’s state-run oil company Petroamazonas. The Latin American country hopes to buy less and less oil and gas from abroad, and to develop its own natural gas reserves and become more energy self-sufficient.
The smallest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has proven oil reserves of 8 billion barrels, about 1 percent of the world’s total. Ecuador exports roughly 500,000 barrels per day.
Ecuador will open up its hydrocarbon resources to Russia’s state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft in cooperation with Ecuador state run Rosegelogia. Both company’s CEOs were present at the meeting between Correa and Putin at the Kremlin on Tuesday.
“Of course we are interested in the participation of Gazprom, as it is the largest gas company in the world,” Correa said.
Currently, Russian companies are taking part in other energy projects. Roseximbank, Russia's state-owned  import-export bank ,agreed to loan $195 million to finance a thermoelectric plant which will be built by Russian firm Inter Rao, and is expected to begin operations in 2016.
Russian and Ecuador signed another $1.2 billion agreement to finance two hydroelectric plants. In 2011, Roseximbank loaned Ecuador $123 million to build two hydroelectric plants which are due to open in 2015.
Correa also said Ecuador is interested in buying Russian military equipment in the form of helicopters and trucks.
Ecuador and Russia have been strategic economic partners, and trade between the countries reached a record $1.3 billion in 2012.
Russia imported about $1.2 billion in bananas, seafood, and flowers from the country. Ecuador imported roughly $116 million in medical equipment, mineral fertilizers, and paper from Russia.
The Ecuadorian President plans to visit Moscow’s Skolkovo start-up hub on Wednesday. While in St. Petersburg on Monday, Correa invited the city’s scientists to visit Ecuador and help contribute to a new science city that will specialize in bio and nanotechnologies, information systems, and textiles.
The Ecuadorian president will also stop in Belarus and France.

Venezuela's neighbor

Correa has ramped up oil output since 2010, when all joint-venture partners were forced to become service contractors as well.
Last year, Ecuador signed a memorandum agreement with Gazprom to explore drilling opportunities in the muddy natural gas field in the Gulf of Guayaquil. The gas giant has also been involved in exploration in the Urumaco blocks, which have reserves of about 100 billion cubic meters.
Last year Correa authorized oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest, at Yasuni National Park.
Rosneft already has a joint venture with Ecuador’s more much oil rich neighbor Venezuela. Rosneft partnered with PDVSA, the country’s market dominating national oil company. Russian companies are already involved in 5 oil projects in Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, with proven reserve of almost 300 billion barrels, by BP statistics.
CEO Igor Sechin frequently visits Venezuela, and plans to invest $10 billion in oil and gas projects

Japan govt considers assuming Fukushima decontamination – media

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Tokyo is reportedly considering stripping the Fukushima nuclear operator of the responsibility to decontaminate the devastated station and passing it under full government control. That would imply assuming TEPCO’s massive current clean-up expenditures.
The ruling Liberal Democratic party’s committee overseeing the government bailout of TEPCO finalized on Tuesday the proposal to nationalize decontamination works at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by splitting TEPCO’s activities, Japanese media reports.
The proposed spin-off could leave TEPCO concentrating on maintenance and the operability of its three nuclear power plants, while decontamination and reactor decommission at the Fukushima nuclear power plant would fall under full government control, with the possible creation of an independent administrative governmental agency.
"We need to have a prompt conclusion to create a clear and realistic organization,” said the draft proposal, according to Reuters.
The move means many billions of Japanese taxpayers’ dollars might be channeled to cleaning up the Fukushima facility after two-and-a-half years of TEPCO proved unsuccessful in taking the situation at the disaster-prone facility under control.
“Personally, I don’t feel it’s right to say that all responsibility belongs with TEPCO,” Taro Aso, Japan’s Finance Minister, told reporters.
The Japanese government has been backing the Fukushima operator since 2011, promising massive financial aid - up to 5 trillion yen (roughly $50 billion) - for decontamination and compensation payments to 160,000 evacuated residents that used to live around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
But what have been lacking in the scheme are positive results in damage control and recovery, as TEPCO failed to prevent accidents with radioactive waste leakages at the station.
Since the Japanese government nationalized TEPCO last year with a taxpayer-funded rescue, there has been constant argument about how largely the authorities should be involved, both administratively and financially, in eliminating the consequences of the Fukushima incident.
Since the disaster on March 11, 2011, Japanese government has been expecting TEPCO to bring tangible results in clean-up at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but great expectations proved to be in vain.

The inside of the No. 4 reactor building is seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture on May 26, 2012. (AFP Photo / Toshiaki Shimizu)
The inside of the No. 4 reactor building is seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture on May 26, 2012. (AFP Photo / Toshiaki Shimizu)
In early September, after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed the situation at Fukushima is under control, a senior TEPCO official had to contradict PM, saying that the radioactive water leakage at the crippled Fukushima plant continues.
But probably the incident that ended the government’s patience was in late October, when a Fukushima cleanup worker-turned-whistleblower exposed the plant’s chaotic system of subcontractors, their alleged yakuza organized crime connections, and the super-exploitation of indigent workers doing dangerous work.
What has been infuriating the Japanese public and lawmakers alike is the policy of total concealment of the scale of the disaster and disavowal to acknowledge impotence to fight the emergency at the TEPCO Company.
On Monday Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida accused TEPCO of “institutionalized lying” practices in an interview to Reuters.
Initially, TEPCO promised to finish the clean-up at Fukushima facility in a matter of months. Now it appears that the complete decontamination of the facility will take three decades and cost up to $100 billion, Reuters reports.
TEPCO has already lost $27 billion since the Fukushima disaster occurred and, after all of the Japanese nuclear power facilities were shut down, has lost its sole source of revenue. That is why the company has announced plans to restart its Kashiwazaki Kariwa power plant - the world’s biggest nuclear complex - in Niigata Prefecture next spring, which has already raised concerns among the public and local authorities.
In December it will be 1,000 days since the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred, becoming the worst since the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986. But more and more news about new leakage of highly radioactive waste at the facility come on a regular basis, which means Japanese government has huge work ahead to curb the consequences better than TEPCO has been doing

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