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Archive for February 24th, 2011

Brent backs off $120, eyes on Libyan, Saudi supply

Posted by Admin on February 24, 2011

Traders work in the oil options pit on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange in New York City
By Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson 29 mins ago

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil surged more than 7.5 percent to its highest since August 2008 on Thursday on concern that uprisings in Libya could spread to other major oil producers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.

Brent crude oil for April spiked up $8.54 a barrel to a peak of $119.79 before easing to around $114 by 11:15 a.m. EST. U.S. crude futures for April rose as high as $103.41, the highest September 2009. They were up $1.00 at $99.10 at 11:15 a.m. EST.

Unrest in the world’s 12th-biggest exporter has cut at least 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Libya’s 1.6 million bpd output, according to Reuters calculations.

ENI Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni said Libyan output had fallen much more dramatically, estimating it was putting 1.2 million barrels per day less into the market.

The Financial Times quoted an unnamed official as saying Saudi Arabia was in active talks with European refiners who may be hit by a disruption in Libyan exports.

That would be the clearest sign yet that OPEC’s biggest exporter is ready to respond to the cut in Libyan output.

The kingdom had asked refiners “what quantity and what quality of oil they want,” the FT quoted the senior Saudi oil official saying on condition of anonymity.

Goldman Sachs said the spread of unrest to another producing country could bring oil shortages and require demand rationing.

“The market cannot accommodate another disruption, in our view,” analyst Jeffrey Currie said in a research note.

Also supporting oil prices were figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing a lower-than-expected build in crude inventories and hefty drawdowns in gasoline and distillate stocks last week.

EYES ON SAUDI

Major banks joined the chorus of calls on Thursday for OPEC to act quickly on fears the strong oil prices could derail the fragile economic recovery.

Barclays Capital and Citi said it saw no downward pressure on prices until more oil comes to the market.

“Unless we see an explicit move from … producer countries, i.e. Saudi Arabia, I don’t think there is necessarily going to be any downward pressure on prices,” said BarCap analyst Amrita Sen.

Eugen Weinberg, Commerzbank’s head of commodities research, said the situation called for “some extraordinary measures.”

“This is an opportunity for OPEC to prove whether they are really able to (step) into this production gap,” he said.

Eastern areas holding much of Libya’s oil have slipped from the control of Muammar Gaddafi, who has unleashed a bloody crackdown on protesters to keep his 41-year grip on power.

The cuts in Libyan oil output represent the first disruption to supply as a direct result of protests that have swept through the oil-producing regions of north Africa and the Middle East.

The concern for oil markets is how unrest might affect Saudi Arabia, which not only pumps around 10 percent of the world’s oil but is also the only holder of significant spare crude production capacity that can be used to plug outages.

The FT report said Saudi Arabia was waiting for a response from European customers before making a decision on whether or not to increase output. It said options included pumping more oil through an East-West pipeline or boosting shipments to Asia in order to free up West African crude for Europe.

Without Saudi Arabia’s 4 million bpd of spare capacity, there is little margin in the global oil supply system.

To date, Saudi Arabia has escaped popular protests that have raged across the Arab world, toppling the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and spreading as far as Saudi neighbor Bahrain.

Saudi King Abdullah has unveiled benefits for Saudis worth $37 billion in an apparent bid to insulate the oil exporter from protests in the region. However, hundreds of people have backed a Facebook page campaigning for a ‘day of rage’ across the kingdom on March 11 to demand reforms and greater democracy.

U.S. crude oil inventories rose less than expected and refined product stocks fell last week as the United States imported less crude, according to a report from the IEA.

Domestic crude stocks rose 822,000 barrels to 346.7 million barrels in the week to February 18, the report showed, compared with expectations for a 1.2 million barrel build in a Reuters poll of analysts.

(Additional reporting by Nia Williams, Emma Farge, Claire Milhench and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London; Editing by Jason Neely and Alison Birrane)

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UK court agrees Assange extradition to Sweden

Posted by Admin on February 24, 2011

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks after his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court
By Michael Holden Michael Holden 1 hr 55 mins ago

LONDON (Reuters) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who rocked the U.S. government by publishing thousands of secret diplomatic memos, must be extradited to Sweden to face sex crimes allegations, a British judge ruled on Thursday.

Assange’s lawyers said immediately they planned to appeal against the decision to London’s High Court and it could still be months before the legal process in Britain reaches an end.

The 39-year-old Australian computer expert remains in Britain on bail in the meantime.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies, made by two WikiLeaks volunteers during his time in Sweden last August.

Judge Howard Riddle dismissed Assange’s arguments that he could not get a fair trial in Sweden and said extradition to Sweden would not violate his human rights.

“I must order Mr Assange be extradited to Sweden,” he told London’s top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in a case covered by scores of reporters from around the world.

Assange, smartly dressed in dark suit and tie, showed no emotion as Riddle gave his verdict.

About a dozen Assange supporters, wearing masks and costumes or Guantanamo Bay-style orange boiler suits, chanted at the front of the court.

THUMBS-UP

Speaking to a crowd of reporters after the hearing, Assange attacked the fast-track European arrest warrant used to seek his extradition to Sweden and called the court hearing a “rubber-stamping process.”

“There was no consideration during this entire process as to the merits of the allegations made against me,” he said, accusing the United States of putting pressure on Britain, Sweden and the media over his case.

He gave a thumbs-up sign as he walked away from the court while his supporters clapped and cheered.

Assange’s lawyers have accused Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of creating a “toxic atmosphere” in Sweden and damaging his chances of a fair trial by portraying him as “public enemy number one.”

WikiLeaks caused a media and diplomatic uproar late last year when it began to publish its cache of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, revealing secrets such as that Saudi leaders had urged U.S. military action against Iran.

The U.S. government is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against Assange over the leaks and Assange fears extradition to Sweden could be a stepping-stone to him being taken to the United States, although legal experts say that could not happen without Britain giving permission.

CONTROVERSY

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Assange case was a matter between Britain and Sweden.

“Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the U.S. is not involved,” he said.

Swedish prosecutors had no immediate comment.

Assange is a controversial and flamboyant character who inspires strong loyalties among his supporters, but his former right-hand man described him in a recent book as an irresponsible, autocratic bully.

Many well-known people have flocked to Assange’s support, defending him as a crusader for free speech.

Socialite Jemima Khan was in court on Thursday and celebrities including British film director Ken Loach and Australian journalist John Pilger offered sureties in December to persuade the British court he would not abscond.

One of the alleged victims accuses Assange of sexually molesting her by ignoring her request for him to use a condom during sex. The second woman has said Assange had sex with her while she was asleep and that he was not wearing a condom.

Prosecutors say the second allegation falls into the least severe of three categories of rape in Sweden, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.

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Gun battles rage as rebels seize Libyan towns

Posted by Admin on February 24, 2011

A protester covers his face with a Libyan flag ...
A Protester covering his face with the Libyan Flag
By Alexander Dziadosz Alexander Dziadosz 23 mins ago

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi launched a fierce counter-attack on Thursday, fighting gun battles with rebels who have threatened the Libyan leader by seizing important towns close to the capital.

The opposition were already in control of major centers in the east, including the regional capital Benghazi, and reports that the towns of Misrata and Zuara in the west had also fallen brought the tide of rebellion closer to Gaddafi’s power base.

Gun battles in Zawiyah, an oil terminal 50 km (30 miles) from the capital, left 10 people dead, a Libyan newspaper said.

France’s top human rights official said up to 2,000 people might have died so far in the uprising.

In a rambling appeal for calm, Gaddafi blamed the revolt on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and said the protesters were fueled by milk and Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs,

Gaddafi, who just two days ago vowed in a televised address to crush the revolt and fight to the last, showed none of the fist-thumping rage of that speech.

This time, he spoke to state television by telephone without appearing in person, and his tone seemed more conciliatory.

“Their ages are 17. They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe,” Gaddafi said.

A Tripoli resident, who did not want to be identified because he feared reprisals for speaking to the foreign media, told Reuters: “It seems like he realized that his speech yesterday with the strong language had no effect on the people. He’s realizing it’s going to be a matter of time before the final chapter: the battle of Tripoli.”

FIGHTBACK

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader attacked anti-government militias controlling Misrata, Libya’s third-biggest city, 125 miles east of Tripoli, and several people were killed in fighting near the city’s airport.

Soldiers were reported along the roads approaching Tripoli. In Zawiyah, witnesses said pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces were firing at each other in the streets.

“It is chaotic there. There are people with guns and swords,” said Mohamed Jaber, who passed through Zawiyah on his way to Tunisia on Thursday.

Al Jazeera television broadcast pictures of what it said was a burning police station in Zawiyah. A witness told Reuters the Libyan army was present in force.

Anti-government militias were in control of Zuara, about 120 km (75 miles) west of Tripoli. There was no sign of police or military and the town was controlled by “popular committees” armed with automatic weapons.

The uprising has virtually halted Libya’s oil exports, said the head of Italy’s ENI, Libya’s biggest foreign oil operator. The unrest has driven world oil prices up to around $120 a barrel, stoking concern about the economic recovery.

Key Libyan oil and product terminals to the east of the capital are in the hands of rebels, according to Benghazi residents in touch with people in region. The oil and product terminals at Ras Lanuf and Marsa El Brega were being protected, they said, amid fears of attacks by pro-Gaddafi forces.

The desert nation pumps nearly 2 percent of the world’s oil.

World leaders condemned Gaddafi’s bloody crackdown on the week-long revolt, but did little to halt the bloodshed from the latest upheaval reshaping the Arab world.

U.S. President Barack Obama joined western leaders in condemning the violence in Libya.

“It is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” Obama said. “The suffering and bloodshed are outrageous.”

French Defense Minister Alain Juppe said he hoped Gaddafi was “living his last moments as leader”. British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged the world to increase pressure on Gaddafi.

UP TO 2,000 DEAD

France’s top human rights official said up to 2,000 people could have died in the unrest and he feared Gaddafi could unleash “migratory terrorism” on Europe as his regime collapses.

“The question is not if Gaddafi will fall, but when and at what human cost,” Francois Zimeray told Reuters. “For now the figures we have … more than 1,000 have died, possibly 2,000, according to sources.”

Benghazi, the eastern regional capital where the rebellion started a week ago, is starting to run itself under “people’s committees” as the dust of rebellion settles. In the east of Libya, many soldiers have withdrawn from active service.

A Reuters correspondent in the city was shown about a dozen people being held in a court building who residents said were “mercenaries” backing Gaddafi. Some were said to be African and others from southern Libya.

“They have been interrogated, and they are being kept safe, and they are fed well,” said Imam Bugaighis, 50, a university lecturer now helping organize committees to run the city, adding that they would be tried according to the law, but the collapse of institutions of state meant the timing was not clear.

Angry residents destroyed a barracks compound they said had been used by the mercenaries.

In Tripoli, which remains largely closed to foreign media, locals said they were too scared to go outside for fear of being shot by pro-government forces.

“People have started working today. But that does not mean they are not afraid. But until now, people are moving around,” a resident told Reuters. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, Christian Lowe, Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Souhail Karam, Firouz Sedarat, Tom Pfeiffer; Brian Love, Daren Butler; Dina Zayed, Sarah Mikhail and Tom Perry; Martina Fuchs, Michael Georgy; writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Scientist: Baby dolphin deaths unprecedented

Posted by Admin on February 24, 2011

Wendy Hatchett

AP – Institute for Marine Mammal Studies veterinary technician Wendy Hatchett lifts a dead bottlenose dolphin

NEW ORLEANS – A scientist says the deaths of about two dozen baby bottlenose dolphins is unprecedented in 30 years of studying dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico.

Moby Solangi says the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., has no record of previous mass deaths in which the majority were infants.

The recent deaths occurred in birthing areas off Mississippi and Alabama. Six bodies intact enough for dissection were a mix of stillborn, premature and full-term calves that died shortly after birth.

Solangi says possible causes include cold winter and disease. He said scientists are investigating whether there was a link to the BP oil spill. But he says only one dolphin species — and no other kind of animal — appears to be dying in unusual numbers.

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