The NewsFuror

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dollar falls to record euro low

US dollar
The dollar is falling as investors worry about the US economy
The US dollar has fallen to a fresh record low against the euro as traders bet that further interest rate cuts will be needed to stem a US recession.

The euro rose to $1.5048 after hitting $1.50 on Tuesday for the first time.

Data issued on Tuesday, showing a sharp rise in US home foreclosures and another fall in American consumer confidence, weighed on sentiment.

Lower US rates tend to send investors in search of other currencies which give a better rate of return.

"Inflation - or perhaps more to the point, stagflation - remains a concern for the Fed," said Gary Thomson, an analyst at CMC Markets.

Five-year low

The latest sign of falling US consumer confidence came from the closely-watched Conference Board survey.

It said consumer sentiment fell to a five-year low in February because of growing recession fears.

At the same time, the number of US homes facing foreclosure rose 57% in January, compared with the same month of 2007.

Last month, the Fed slashed interest rates to 3% as it tried to prevent the US economy falling into recession.

"With so few consumers expecting conditions to turn around in the months ahead, the outlook for the economy continues to worsen and the risk of a recession continues to increase," said Lynn Franco, a director of the Conference Board's consumer research centre.

Cambodia leader revisits prison

Duch in court on 20 November 2007
Duch (centre) was asked to talk through Tuol Sleng's daily routine
The chief interrogator of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge has been taken back to a prison he commanded where at least 14,000 people were killed.

Kaing Geuk Eav, also known as Duch, visited the S-21 prison with judges from a tribunal which has charged him with crimes against humanity.

The judges wanted him to explain what happened at the site, known as Tuol Sleng, which is now a genocide museum.

The Khmer Rouge are blamed for more than one million deaths in the 1970s.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge officials to be charged in a UN-backed tribunal, but a date for the trial has yet to be set.

Torture chambers

Despite its gruesome history, Tuol Sleng is normally one of the busiest tourist attractions in Phnom Penh.

For Duch's visit with dozens of investigating judges from the UN-backed tribunal, police cordoned off the genocide museum and the surrounding area.

Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979
Founded and led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998
Abolished religion, schools and currency in a bid to create agrarian utopia
Brutal regime that did not tolerate dissent
More than a million people thought to have died from starvation, overwork or execution

Tuol Sleng was once a school, but the Khmer Rouge surrounded the outside with barbed wire and turned the classrooms into tiny cells and blood-spattered torture chambers.

Thousands of people were tortured there until they admitted to crimes against the revolution. Only a handful of inmates left the prison alive.

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, said the site was a "living nightmare" for Cambodians.

On Tuesday, Duch was taken to visit Choeung Ek, where some 16,000 people were buried in shallow mass graves after being tortured at Tuol Sleng.

Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman, said Duch wept during the visit as "the accused explained what happened ... when he was the chief of S-21", the Associated Press news agency reported.

"We noticed that he was feeling pity, tears were rolling down his face two or three times," he said.

A visitor looks at human skulls at Tuol Sleng, Cambodia
The former school is now a museum about the Cambodian genocide

Duch was especially moved, he said, when he stood before a tree with a sign describing how executioners disposed of their child victims by bashing their heads against its trunk.

Both visits, described by officials as re-enactments, were closed to the public and the media.

Duch was arrested and detained in July 2007.

Those also facing charges include Nuon Chea, second-in-command of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, the former foreign and social affairs ministers Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

Democrats clash in crucial debate

Hillary Clinton (left) and Barack Obama at the debate in Cleveland, Ohio, 26 February 2008
The two rivals held their second debate in five days
The two main Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have accused each other of negative campaigning in a TV debate.

The two White House hopefuls also attacked each other's policies on health care, trade and foreign policy, including the Iraq war.

It was their final face-to-face encounter before next week's crucial primaries in Ohio and Texas.

Mr Obama has won the previous 11 primaries and caucuses.

Analysts say Mrs Clinton needs to win a majority of delegates in both states to stay in the race to choose the Democratic candidate at the national nominating convention in August, ahead of the November elections.

Blame game

Accusations of dirty tricks and negative campaigning have dogged the past week of the nomination race.

In the opening minutes of the televised debate in Cleveland, Ohio, the two politely but firmly accused each other of spreading misinformation about their policies.

"The charges that Senator Obama's campaign has made regarding fliers and mailers and other information that he has been putting out about my health care plan and my position on Nafta (the North America Free Trade Agreement) have been very disturbing to me," Mrs Clinton said.

Mr Obama retorted that his rival's campaign had "constantly sent out negative attacks on us... We haven't whined about it because I understand that's the nature of these campaigns."

Barack Obama meeting Kenyan elders in 2006

Both insisted they stood for universal healthcare, and that the other's programme would leave some people without cover.

Mr Obama sought to draw a line, however, under the appearance of a controversial photograph of him wearing traditional Somali robes during a visit to Kenya in 2006.

He said he believed Mrs Clinton when she said she did not know where the photo had come from.

Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama went on to say that they would both seek to renegotiate Nafta with Canada and Mexico, under threat of opting out of the 14-year-old pact.

Many workers in Ohio and other states hard-hit by factory closures blame the deal for job losses.

It was on foreign policy that there was the strongest contrast between the two candidates.

Mrs Clinton repeated her stance that her qualifications and experience as former first lady and New York senator put her in the best position to be the next commander-in-chief.

Mr Obama replied that experience should not be confused with longevity in Washington, saying Mrs Clinton's vote in favour of authorising the war in Iraq in 2002 was a massive strategic blunder.

Obama momentum

It was hard to define an outright winner of the debate, says our correspondent, but there was nothing to suggest Mrs Clinton did enough to turn the tide that has been moving in Mr Obama's favour.

Mrs Clinton now needs to win a majority of the delegates in the remaining state primaries and caucuses to stay in the race to choose the Democratic candidate for November's presidential election.

Ohio and Texas, both big states, are being seen as must wins for her.

Several polls suggest Mr Obama is gaining ground in both Texas and Ohio. The Illinois senator is leading in Texas for the first time, with 50% compared to 46% for Mrs Clinton, according to a CNN poll.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama won endorsement from a former rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Christopher Dodd.

On the Republican side, front-runner John McCain has also been campaigning in Ohio, as the party prepares to hold its own primary in the state, also on 4 March.