SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — The Yasser Arafat Foundation said Sunday there was “no need” for more proof the Palestinian leader was poisoned in what appeared to be a stance against French plans to exhume his body.
“Since the formation of this Foundation, it has forcefully held on to the fact that Yasser Arafat died abnormally after being killed by a poison which was unidentified at the time,” it said in a statement.
“The Foundation does not see a need here for more proof.”
The statement was issued just days after a delegation of French magistrates said they would travel to travel to the West Bank to investigate following claims Arafat may have succumbed to poisoning by the radioactive substance polonium.
No date has been given for the trip which would involve forensic officers exhuming the body and taking samples for laboratory testing in an investigation sought by Arafat’s widow Suha.
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a source from the Foundation said they would only agree to a further examination of his body if it was conducted as part of an international investigation committee.
“If there is an international committee, we will agree to the body being checked,” he said, without explaining further.
Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on Nov. 11, 2004 and French experts were unable say what had killed him, with many Palestinians subscribing to the belief that he was poisoned by Israel.
Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al-Qidwa, who heads the Arafat Foundation, has long insisted that Israel was behind his uncle’s death but a Palestinian investigation into such allegations ruled out poisoning, AIDS and cancer.
Last month, French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry into Arafat’s death after Al-Jazeera news channel broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they found high levels of radioactive polonium on his personal effects.
In July, president Mahmud Abbas and Suha Arafat both gave their consent for samples to be taken from his remains, which are buried in a mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
But some Palestinians feel the French did not do enough to shed light on the cause of Arafat’s death at the time and they are pushing for an international probe into the circumstances of his death.—www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Arabiya
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — The makers of China's fiery liquor baijiu, a pricey, potent drink that is a staple at state dinners, say it inspires poets and can even ward off dementia.
For investors in the largest baijiu makers Kweichow Moutai Co Ltd and Wuliangye Yibin Co Ltd, the appeal is more mundane: the companies paid out huge dividends and raised earnings forecasts when a slowing economy had prompted dozens of Chinese firms to issue profit warnings.
Demand for high-grade liquor at state banquets and premium pricing helped Moutai post an operating profit margin last year that was more than double that of tech giant Apple Inc, the world's most valuable company, Thomson Reuters data shows.
Moutai is even a partner of the Chinese Olympic Committee, pushing out a commemorative brew for the London 2012 games.
But the stellar first-half results that these companies are expected to report this month -- Moutai on Friday and Wuliangye on August 20 -- may mark the high point if Beijing cracks down on lavish baijiu-drenched banquets.
Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in March to ban the use of public funds for luxury items including baijiu, which retails for about $300 per standard bottle and well into the thousands for rare, aged varieties.
"It really depends on how strongly the government would like to execute this policy," said Melinda Zhang, a manager in the consumer and retail practice at the consultancy Booz & Co, who has studied the baijiu sector.
"In the long term, we see the China baijiu market keeping stable growth," she added. "The demand is there. Consumption behavior of businesses and the government will not have significant change."
At the five-star Okura Garden Hotel in Shanghai, a top banquet venue, the beverage manager, surnamed Liao, said baijiu sales had dropped more than 20 percent since March.
In Tianjin, a bustling port city near the capital Beijing, Moutai sales were down by as much as 50 percent over the past half year, the official China Daily reported in late July.
Some localities have introduced their own rules, like prohibitions on drinking at lunch, to improve the image of government officials. In Jiangsu province's Siyang county, public expenditures on receptions had been cut by two-thirds, the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post reported.
The clamp-down on government profligacy, a hot-button issue in China where ordinary people sometimes associate officialdom with boozy banquets and corruption, comes ahead of the sensitive once-in-a-decade political transition later this year.
Yet fund managers and sell-side analysts have remained almost uniform in their bullishness on Moutai and Wuliangye, in part premised on the companies' ambitious earnings guidance. Wuliangye is predicting a 51 percent jump in first-half profit.
Of the 22 analysts tracking Wuliangye, 21 rate it a 'strong buy' or 'buy,' according to Thomson Reuters StarMine. For Moutai, 17 of 18 have a 'buy' or 'strong buy' rating.
While onshore Chinese stock markets have tanked 33 percent over 2010 and 2011, Moutai has been a standout outperformer, surging 25 percent. Wuliangye rose a more modest 3.6 percent.
In 2012 so far, Shanghai-listed Moutai is up 35 percent, while Shenzhen-listed Wuliangye is up 14.2 percent. This compares with a 2.8 percent gain in the CSI300 Index of the top Shanghai and Shenzhen listings.
"In the awful (stock) market conditions of the last two-and-a-half years, the outperformance of baijiu stocks has got to do with their earnings visibility," said Cao Xuefeng, head of research at Huaxi Securities in Chengdu. "Growth for the sector will stay high, but rates of growth will slow down."
Moutai and Wuliangye currently trade at 16.6 and 13.2 times their respective forward 12-month earnings, at the low end among shares of companies classified as "consumer staples" in China.
Wuliangye did not respond to repeated interview requests and Moutai declined to comment for this story.
BRIDGE TO THE WORLD
Baijiu, which translates to "white spirits," traces its roots back centuries and is made from a mixture of grains including rice, wheat and corn. It packs a punch similar to vodka, with an alcohol content typically above 50 percent, and is normally downed fast and neat in tiny shots.
On their websites, Moutai and Wuliangye both boast of their firms' long histories. Moutai also claims health benefits, saying moderate drinking "keeps the dementia away" and even helped a 92-year-old man re-grow his teeth.
But it is demand from the Communist Party that drives sales.
"As liquor for state banquet, Wuliangye has become an envoy and bridge between China and the outside," Wuliangye said on its website, adding that "many famous scholars, poets (and) generals in history have got addicted to the marvelous flavor."
That bridge to the outside has reached investors including BlackRock Asset Management, which is listed among the top 10 shareholders in both Wuliangye and Moutai.
But the alcohol itself has found few foreign fans. Some 98 percent of Wuliangye's 20.35 billion yuan ($3.19 billion) in revenue last year was domestic. For Moutai, 97 percent of its 18.4 billion yuan in revenue last year came from within China.
"There is almost no export market. 'Laowais' (foreigners) don't drink that thing," said Hong Hao, chief equity strategist at Bank of Communications International Securities.
Indeed, some foreigners have likened drinking baijiu to swallowing razor blades or jet fuel. That suggests China will struggle to follow the lead of Japan, which succeeded in making sake a popular global drink.
British drinks company Diageo Plc is trying. Last year, Diageo bought a majority stake in Sichuan Swellfun Co Ltd, maker of Shui Jing Fang baijiu, a deal that the company said would "enable us to bring one of the leading Chinese white spirits brands to international markets."
So far, those international markets are limited to places such as San Francisco and London, where wealthy Chinese tourists snap up baijiu because it is cheaper overseas and buyers believe they run less of a risk of picking up a counterfeit bottle.
Paul Mathew, a British bar owner and drink consultant living in Beijing, said he did some baijiu experimenting for Diageo. One example was the Shui Jing Fang Grapefruit Sour, which mixes a shot of baijiu with pink grapefruit juice, lemon juice, cinnamon syrup and an egg white.
Derek Sandhaus, an American living in Chengdu, Sichuan, who chronicled his conversion from baijiu hater to enthusiast in a blog entitled "300 Shots at Greatness," said he developed a taste for the liquor after 75 attempts. The title of his blog, however, refers to one study that estimated it takes 300 shots to start to enjoy the stuff.
"There's definitely a cultural barrier in terms of cocktails," Sandhaus said.
HOME SHOPPING NETWORK
That leaves domestic consumption as the main driver.
But as demand slows, supply is building. Credit Suisse analysts said inventory growth hit a record high of 35 percent in 2011, outpacing sales growth.
"It doesn't matter if you have superior pricing power like Moutai does right now. That will disappear when there's oversupply," BoComm International's Hong told Reuters.
With an operating margin of 67 percent last year -- triple the industry median according to Thomson Reuters data -- Moutai can afford to lose a little pricing power. Wuliangye's margin was a relatively modest 42 percent, still double the industry median.
"In terms of margins, Kweichow Moutai has the advantage because most of what they produce is higher-quality liquor," said Yi Yangfang, a fund manager at Guangzhou-based GF Fund Management, which manages $7.9 billion worth of assets that includes stakes in both Kweichow Moutai and Wuliangye.
Some long-time China watchers said the government's crackdown on lavish banquets may not last long.
Paul French, a veteran Shanghai-based market consultant with the firm Mintel, said campaigns like the one launched by Wen, who is due to retire early next year, have tended to be cyclical and easy to circumvent.
"Every time they try to do anything like this people find a way around it... If you sit around long enough you'll come up against that story again in a few years," he said.—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) says Tehran has evidence in which the US admits that terrorists have infiltrated Syria.
“Iran has in its possession confirmed and reliable documents of the US admitting to the presence of terrorists in Syria who have entered the country in order to fuel violence,” Saeed Jalili said during a press conference in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday.
“Those who think they can undermine Syria’s stability have made a terrible strategic mistake. The Syrian problem should be solved by the Syrians, not through military means,” Jalili added.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Damascus says ‘outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists’ are behind the unrest while the West and the opposition accuse the security forces of killing protesters.
Following his visit to Lebanon, Jalili arrived at Damascus International Airport on Tuesday and was welcomed by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous and Iran's Ambassador to Syria Mohammad Reza Sheibani.
During his visit, he conferred with senior Syrian officials including the country’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Referring to the abduction of Iranian pilgrims in Syria, Jalili said the Islamic Republic will make every effort to secure the abductees release and their safe return to Iran.
Forty-eight Iranian pilgrims, who were traveling on a bus from Damascus International Airport to the shrine of Hazrat Zainab (AS) on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, were abducted by insurgents on August 4. —www.shafaqna.com/englis
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — "We can now say that the planet was altered on a global scale by liquid water about four billion years ago." John Carter of the University of Paris.
Will the newly defined search zone for The Mars Curiosity rover following its Aug. 5th touchdown prove Carter right? The Curiosity Science Mission goal is to look for chemical evidence of ancient life preserved within exposures near the base of a five-kilometers high mound of layered materials at the center of Gale crater.
Because of its history, 96-mile wide Gale Crater crater with its strangely sculpted mountain --three times higher than the Grand Canyon is deep--is the ideal place for Curiosity to conduct its mission of exploration into the Red Planet's past. Researchers plan to use Curiosity to study layers in the mountain that hold evidence about wet environments of early Mars.
An instrument on Curiosity can check for any water that might be bound into shallow underground minerals along the rover's path. Today the Red Planet is a radiation-drenched, bitterly cold, bleak world. Enormous dust storms explode across the barren landscape and darken Martian skies for months at a time. But data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggest that Mars once hosted vast lakes and flowing rivers.
Minerals in northern Mars craters observed by two NASA orbiters suggested that a phase in Mars' early history with conditions favorable to life occurred globally, not just in the south. Southern and northern Mars differ in many ways, so the extent to which they shared ancient environments has been open to question.
In recent years, the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have found clay minerals that are signatures of a wet environment at thousands of sites in the southern highlands of Mars, where rocks on or near the surface are about four billion years old. Until this week, no sites with those minerals had been reported in the northern lowlands, where younger volcanic activity has buried the older surface more deeply.
French and American researchers report that some large craters penetrating younger, overlying rocks in the northern lowlands expose similar mineral clues to ancient wet conditions. Other types of evidence about liquid water in later epochs on Mars tend to point to shorter durations of wet conditions or water that was more acidic or salty.
The researchers used the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), an instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, to check 91 craters in the northern lowlands. In at least nine, they found clays and clay-like minerals called phyllosilicates, or other hydrated silicates that form in wet environments on the surface or underground.
Earlier observations with the OMEGA spectrometer on Mars Express had tentatively detected phyllosilicates in a few craters of the northern plains, but the deposits are small, and CRISM can make focused observations on smaller areas than OMEGA.
"We needed the better spatial resolution to confirm the identifications," Carter said. "The two instruments have different strengths, so there is a great advantage to using both."* CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said that the findings aid interpretation of when the wet environments on ancient Mars existed relative to some other important steps in the planet's early history.
The prevailing theory for how the northern part of the planet came to have a much lower elevation than the southern highlands is that a giant object slammed obliquely into northern Mars, turning nearly half of the planet's surface into the solar system's largest impact crater. The new findings suggest that the formation of water-related minerals, and thus at least part of the wet period that may have been most favorable to life, occurred between that early giant impact and the later time when younger sediments formed an overlying mantle.
"That large impact would have eliminated any evidence for the surface environment in the north that preceded the impact," Murchie said. "It must have happened well before the end of the wet period."
The three-dimensional image at the top of the page shows a trough in the Nili Fossae region of Mars shows a type of minerals called phyllosilicates (in magenta and blue hues) concentrated on the slopes of mesas and along canyon walls. The abundance of phyllosilicates shows that water played a sizable role in changing the minerals of a variety of terrains in the planet's early history.
"Layering at the top of the large mound at the center of Gale crater [landing site] is similar to layering visible in western Medusae Fossae Formation exposures, so Curiosity may be able to examine these materials up close, providing the first direct evidence of how they were formed," said Jim Zimbelman, geologist at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. "This is exciting because so far none of our orbiting spacecraft have been able to measure the composition of MFF materials, something crucial to any explanation of its origin."—www.shafaqna.com/english
Source: The Daily Galaxy