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By Admin (from 02/07/2012 @ 14:04:50, in en - Global Observatory, read 1685 times)

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has refused to comply with a police request to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London and surrender himself.

He has been inside the embassy since last week seeking asylum as part of his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about alleged sex offences.

Susan Benn from the Julian Assange Defence Fund told reporters: ''Julian will remain in the embassy under the protection of the Ecuadorian government''.

Source: bbc.co.uk - 29 June 2012 Last updated at 16:03 GMT

 

The No 3 reactor at the Oi atomic plant, in the central Japan prefecture of Fukui, was restarted on Sunday evening and should begin generating electricity on Wednesday, according to officials of Kansai Electric Power Co. The reactor is expected to start operating at full capacity from Sunday.

Restarting the plant has been hugely contentious in Japan, where there has been a public backlash against atomic energy 16 months after the second-worst nuclear accident in history.

The first Japanese nuclear reactor to be restarted since the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March last year reached critical levels early on Monday morning.

A crowd estimated at 150,000-strong protested against the restart outside the official residence of Yoshihiko Noda, the Japanese prime minister, on Friday evening, while some 100 demonstrators used cars in an attempt to block the road to the Oi plant over the weekend.
Protestors clashed briefly with police riot teams after entering the grounds of the facility.

The Japanese government and industry insists that nuclear power is needed if parts of the country are not to experience power cuts in the coming months. Energy consumption surges in Japan's notoriously hot summer months, despite efforts to encourage people to reduce the amount they use, particularly on air conditioning.

On Monday, electricity savings targets set by the government went into effect across the country. Households and businesses are being asked to cut their energy consumption by as much as 15 percent until September 7.
Utilities are still warning, however, that they may have to impose rolling blackouts in areas where demand is outstripping supply.

One of the most critical areas is the Kansai area, centered on Japan's second city of Osaka, and partly supplied by the Oi nuclear facility.
The Oi reactor is the first of Japan's 51 commercial reactors to go back on-line, although the No. 4 reactor at the plant is also scheduled to go back into operation before the end of July.

On Sunday, emergency teams at the crippled Fukushima plant managed to restore the cooling system for the spent fuel pool, where the temperature of the water had risen nearly 10 degrees after the power unit failed.

Another fault in early June had a similar effect on the pool, which contains 1,353 fuel assemblies that would release massive amounts of radiation if exposed to the air.

Source: telegraph.co.uk & agencies

 

The rights organisation has carried out more than 200 interviews since the beginning of anti-government demonstrations in the country in March last year. Accounts from former detainees and defectors have identified the locations, agencies responsible, torture methods used and, in many cases, the commanders in charge of 27 detention facilities run by Syrian intelligence agencies.

Human Rights Watch said the systematic patterns of ill-treatment and torture it had documented clearly pointed to a "state policy of torture and ill-treatment", which constituted "a crime against humanity".

Mr Hague said the UK would work with EU partners to impose sanctions on those responsible to help bring an end to the violence.

The report, Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria's Underground Prisons since March 2011, includes maps locating detention centres, video accounts from former detainees and sketches of torture techniques described by people who witnessed or experienced torture in the facilities.

Interrogators, guards, and officers used a broad range of torture methods, including prolonged beatings, often with objects such as batons and cables, holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged periods of time, the use of electricity, burning with acid, sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and mock execution.

Human Rights Watch documented more than 20 distinct torture methods used by the security and intelligence services. While most of the torture victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch were young men between 18 and 35, the victims interviewed also included children, women, and the elderly.

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to adopt targeted sanctions against officials credibly implicated in the abuses.

Commenting on the report, Mr Hague said: "This Human Rights Watch report should act as a clear warning. There should be no impunity or hiding place for those committing these crimes. Those responsible for systematic and widespread human rights violations should not delude themselves: we and our international partners will do everything we can to ensure that they will face justice.

"Where we have evidence of individuals' responsibility for acts of violence and repression, the UK will work with EU partners to impose sanctions on them. We will continue to focus attention on what is happening in Syria and work to bring an end to the violence."

Source: dailystar.co.uk

 

Uganda’s Catholic bishops are calling for the revival of the notorious ‘kill the gays’ bill, despite previously opposing it.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the execution of gays in the African country, was effectively shelved last year by the government, following sustained pressure from international donor countries.

Activist Frank Mugisha says support for gay rights is increasing in Uganda despite renewed support for 'kill gays' bill

Photo by Scott Nunn

Despite repeated claims to the contrary, including some unfortunate mainstream reporting, the last version of the bill contained the death penalty in some circumstances.

The Catholic Church had previously been the sole major religion in Uganda in opposition to the bill.

But according to the Daily Monitor, at the annual conference of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), an ecumenical body which brings together the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches, the bishops resolved that it should be brought back from the brink.

The UJCC said that the bill was needed to prevent what they called ‘an attack on the Bible and the institution of marriage’.

The Vatican came out strongly and publicly against the bill and, Wikileaks revealed, even lobbied against it.

Uganda watchers say that the change by the Ugandan Catholic church is ‘very serious’ and that the UJCC resolution was pushed by an Anglican bishop.

Another concern is that, according to the East African, Ugandan President Yowari Museveni is backing his wife, Janet, to take over from him in 2016.

She has close ties to American evangelical dominionist Christian groups and is widely believed to be a force behind the bill.

LGBT activists in Uganda say that despite some setbacks they are slowly increasing visibility and support.

In March, a group managed to join a march against sexual violence with their banner without incident in the capital, Kampala.

Award-winning activist Frank Mugisha, of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said: ‘We see a shift in public opinion and I guess it’s because many Ugandans are talking about homosexuality a lot.

‘There are some local leaders who are now willing to meet and talk to us.

‘The only problem we have is the belief people have that we are promoting homosexuality and recruiting children.’

Mugisha’s group has filed suit in a US court in the first known Alien Tort Statute case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

They are suing the American evangelical extremist Scott Lively for creating the anti-gay climate in Uganda which led to the introduction of the ‘kill the gays’ bill.

Source: gaystarnews.com

 
By Admin (from 10/07/2012 @ 07:07:50, in en - Global Observatory, read 1224 times)

Wearing a pale pink headscarf and a long floral skirt, she meets me at the train station in Basel so we can take the tram to her home. She’s warm and chatty, and soon whips out her gold-tone iPhone to show off photos of her three children.

Originally from Sudan, Amal Bürgin has lived in Switzerland for many years. She and her Swiss husband have two sons and a daughter, aged between four and 11. The fact that she managed to conceive and deliver three children is almost remarkable considering the brutal tradition she herself endured as a child.
 
When Bürgin was five years old, she and her older sister found themselves at the centre of a genital cutting ceremony in their native Khartoum. In addition to sweets and fancy henna tattoos, they were given the so-called pharaonic circumcision. This involves the removal of the clitoris as well as the labia, and then the fusion of the remaining flesh. Only a small hole is left to pass urine and menstrual blood.
 
Now 42, Bürgin still suffers from the consequences, as she first told swissinfo.ch in 2008. In the meantime she has confronted her mother and gained experience speaking about her ordeal publicly.

Amal Bürgin, originally from Sudan.

An ugly tradition
Although considered a crime according to Swiss law, Bürgin is reluctant to describe female genital mutilation (FGM) as such.
 
“It’s a very old and a very ugly tradition, but I’m against calling it a crime because people like my parents and their parents did it. It’s been passed down from generation to generation – they thought they were doing the best for their girls,” Bürgin said.
 
According to her, the tradition is important to them for cultural and religious reasons. The idea is that the daughters will stay physically “clean” and that they won’t think about sex before marriage.
 
In fact, Bürgin’s father was against the procedure, but he wasn’t home on the day that it happened.
 
“When he came back and realised what had been done, he was very angry. I think that being married to my mother, he knew how it would be for us. And I think that’s why he never wanted it done to his two daughters,” Bürgin said.
 
Despite his opposition, Bürgin and her sister suffered a double-dose of FGM.
 
“When I was eight or nine they did it again. My two aunts in Khartoum said it wasn’t a ‘good enough’ job the first time – that I was still ‘too open’. So they brought me and my sister to a famous midwife to have it redone,” Bürgin said. At the very least, both procedures were carried out hygienically and under anaesthesia.
 
Afterwards, any time Bürgin cried from the pain of relieving herself or having her period, her father would get angry and tell her female relatives: “This is all from what you did to her.”

Husband was shocked
As a young woman, Bürgin moved to Switzerland, where she met her husband. She was still a virgin when she married him at 28 – something he found hard to believe. Although he had converted to Islam as an adult, he was completely unaware that FGM was common in some Muslim communities.
 
“My husband was shocked when he found out on our wedding night. He didn’t know anything about this subject, and really, he couldn’t have sex with me,” Bürgin said. She agreed immediately when he suggested that they see a doctor.
 
“The doctor was also very shocked, and that surprised me in a negative way,” Bürgin recalled, having expected a gynaecologist to at least be aware of FGM. “I had an operation to open me and all of those memories came back,” Bürgin said. It took her about a month of bed rest to recover from the surgery: “It was very painful, but I’m glad I did it.”
 
While any loving husband would surely take his wife to the clinic rather than forcing sex on her, this is not a solution, says Bürgin: “The solution should be that men say they don’t want women who have had FGM.”
 
Although some men insist that FGM is women’s business, others campaign actively against it.
 
“I recently found a group on Facebook, even. I was surprised and I liked it,” Bürgin said. Meanwhile, her brother has three daughters – and he and his wife have decided not to have them circumcised. Bürgin’s sister is also against the procedure.
 
After attending a Unicef Switzerland event on the topic in 2007, Bürgin decided to speak out to help eradicate FGM worldwide. More recently, she gave a talk at Basel University; her eyes shine as she remembers the applause she received afterwards.
 
Back in Sudan, her sister has spread the word about Bürgin’s activism.
 
“I know that all of my old friends are educated and against FGM. Of course, they had it themselves, but they are against it and I’m sure that they won’t have it done to their daughters,” Bürgin said.

How God made her
She can now talk to strangers about it, but for decades, Bürgin didn’t dare broach the subject with her mother.
 
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t discuss it earlier because it was taboo, but now it’s becoming more acceptable,” she said, adding that she could never understand why circumcision was treated like a “lovely, happy occasion” where she grew up.
 
It was not until a couple of years ago that she finally had the chance to discuss the topic with her mother, who visited her in Basel.
 
While Bürgin was changing her daughter’s diaper, her mother remarked: “Oh, will you leave her like that or will you do it for her?”
 
Bürgin answered: “No – never,” and took a deep breath. “OK, mother, you brought up this theme so now I’d like to ask you: Why did you do this to us? Do you remember how I cried from the pain?”
 
Bürgin’s mother replied that it was a tradition and from Islam, to which Bürgin countered that there was nothing in Islam stating that girls should be genitally mutilated.
 
“My mother said, ‘So you won’t do it?’ and I said ‘No’. And after that she didn’t say anything,” Bürgin said.
 
Her daughter is now four years old, and Bürgin is very aware of how different their bodies are.
 
“I see now the difference between me and my daughter. I would never say mine looks nice or beautiful – no, it looks terrible. But how my daughter looks is how God made her.”

Author: Susan Vogel-Misicka - Fonte: swissinfo.ch

 

The Ministry of Defense has put the contracts for 30,000 modern assault rifles out to tender to major arms producers around the world to supply the “civilian police” with the state-of-the-art weaponry by 2014 under the pretext of fighting terrorists and criminal gangs.

Media reports said the police chiefs are already considering arming their officers with the Canadian-made C8 SFW carbine, the same assault rifle the Special Air Service uses in its high-profile operations.

Some of the features the police want to ensure the new rifles have are being adaptable to use of grenade launchers, silencers and different sights.

There are fears that bringing the battlefield weapons to the streets of London and other cities across Britain could be a prelude to even deeper suppression of protest movements after tackling of demonstrations over the past two years sparked condemnations from human rights groups.

Source: presstv.ir

For more information: http://www.noircon.info/2011/11/noir-what-they-will-be-wearing-at-2012.html

 

In the 18 months since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has risen swiftly from the cave to the castle. It founded the now-dominant Freedom and Justice Party last April, won a massive plurality in the winter parliamentary elections, and, last week, celebrated as its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won Egypt's presidential elections. After 84 years of using its nationwide social services networks to build an Islamic state in Egypt from the ground up, the Brotherhood is, for the first time, poised to shape Egyptian society from the top down.

Mursi delivers a speech during a ceremony in which the military handed over power to him. (Courtesy Reuters)

There is, however, a catch: most of the Brotherhood's gains exist in name only. In early June, a court order invalidated the parliamentary elections and dissolved the Brotherhood-dominated parliament. Then, just prior to the second round of the presidential elections, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a constitutional declaration that seized executive authority from the presidency, ultimately rendering Morsi a mostly powerless figure.

But after weeks of mounting tension with the SCAF, including mass demonstrations against the junta's power grab, the Brotherhood is dialing things down. It fears that agitating for more authority now could foment unrest and alienate a deeply divided public. It is also wary of what happened in Algeria in 1991, when the country's military-backed government responded to the electoral victory of an Islamist party with a harsh crackdown that culminated in civil war. To avoid further violence and cement its place in Egyptian politics, the Brotherhood now hopes to create a period of calm in the short run so that it can act more assertively in the future...

Source: foreignaffairs.com

 

Both tunnels were at least 150 yards long. One, found on Wednesday by the Mexican army, began under a bathroom sink inside a warehouse in Tijuana but was unfinished and did not cross the border into San Diego.

The other was completed and discovered on Saturday in a vacant strip mall storefront in the south-western Arizona city of San Luis.

It showed a level of sophistication not typically associated with other crude smuggling passageways that tie into storm drains in the state.

Douglas Coleman, special agent in charge of the Phoenix division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said: "When you see what is there and the way they designed it, it wasn't something that your average miner could put together.

"You would need someone with some engineering expertise to put something together like this."

As US authorities heighten enforcement on land, tunnels have become an increasingly common way to smuggle loads of heroin, marijuana and other drugs into the country. More than 70 passages have been found on the border since October 2008, surpassing the number of discoveries in the previous six years.

A total of 156 secret tunnels have been found along the border since 1990, the vast majority of them incomplete.

Raids last November on two tunnels linking San Diego and Tijuana netted a combined 52 tonnes of marijuana on both sides of the border. In early December 2009, authorities found an incomplete tunnel that stretched nearly 900ft into San Diego from Tijuana, equipped with a lift at the Mexican entrance.

The latest Arizona tunnel was discovered after state police pulled over a man who had 39 pounds of methamphetamine in his vehicle and mentioned the strip mall.

The tunnel was found beneath a water tank in a storage room and stretched across the border to an ice-plant business in the Mexican city of San Luis Rio Colorado. It was reinforced with four-by-six beams and lined with plywood.

Investigators believe the tunnel was not in operation for long because there was little wear on its floor, and 55-gallon drums containing extracted dirt had not been removed from the property.

Mr Coleman said investigators cannot yet say for sure if the tunnel, estimated to cost 1.5 million US dollars (£970,000) to build, was operated by the powerful Sinaloa cartel. Authorities suspect cartel involvement because the group from Sinaloa controls smuggling routes into Arizona.

"Another cartel wasn't going to roll into that area and put down that kind of money in Sinaloa territory," Mr Coleman said.

"Nobody is going to construct this tunnel without significant cartel leadership knowing what's going on."

US authorities were investigating the Tijuana tunnel for three months, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Authorities found no connections to the smuggling operation involving the Arizona passageway.

The Tijuana tunnel was discovered inside a building advertised as a recycling plant in an area where industrial warehouses are common on both sides of the border.

The Mexican army said two tractor-trailers were found inside the warehouse, along with shovels, drills, pickaxes, buckets and other excavation tools.

The Mexican army estimated the tunnel was about 150 yards long and more than 10 yards underground. The walls were lined with dirt and wide enough for one person to get through comfortably.

It takes six months to a year to build a tunnel, authorities said. Workers use shovels and pickaxes to slowly dig through the soil, sleeping in buildings where the tunnels begin until the job is done. Sometimes they use pneumatic tools.

Source: independent.co.uk

 

It is with deep sadness we announce the passing of Jon Lord, who suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism today, Monday 16th July at the London Clinic, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Jon was surrounded by his loving family.

Jon Lord, the legendary keyboard player with Deep Purple co-wrote many of the bands legendary songs including Smoke On The Water and played with many bands and musicians throughout his career.

Best known for his Orchestral work Concerto for Group & Orchestra first performed at Royal Albert Hall with Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969 and conducted by the renowned Malcolm Arnold, a feat repeated in 1999 when it was again performed at the Royal Albert Hall by the London Symphony Orchestra and Deep Purple.

Jon’s solo work was universally acclaimed when he eventually retired from Deep Purple in 2002.

Jon passes from Darkness to Light.

Jon Lord 9 June 1941 – 16 July 2012.

Born in Leicester, England, Jon Lord started to play classical piano from the age of five being influenced by Bach, Medieval music and the English tradition of Elgar. At 18 years of age Lord moved to London, originally intending to take up an acting career.

To earn some money in his spare time Lord joined the jazz ensemble Bill Ashton Combo before going on join other bands such as the Artwoods and the Flower Pot Men. It was when he formed the Santa Barbara Machine Head (Which featured Art Wood on vocals and Ronnie Wood on guitar) that Lord found his style of playing the Hammond organ in a heavy blues direction with plenty of distortion. A sound for which Lord would later become world famous for.

During his time as a session player Lord would also provide the keyboards for The Kinks hit 'You Really Got Me' in 1964.

jon lord

Following a suggestion from his room mate Chris Curtis of the Searchers, Jon Lord met up with manager Tony Edwards in 1967 and met Ritchie Blackmore for the first time to form a band that was originally to be called Roundabout along with Ian Paice on drums and Rod Evans, vocals and Nick Simpler on bass. With a name change to Deep Purple, the band were influenced by American rockers Vanilla Fudge whom Lord had seen in concert the same year. They made their debut, 'Shades Of Deep Purple', and a cover of the Joe South song 'Hush' was a massive hit Stateside.

This line up made three albums with the third self titled album 'Deep Purple' featuring the track 'April' which had a classical introduction written by Lord.

In 1969 Ian Gillan and Roger Glover replaced Evans and Simper in the band and the classic Mk II line up was formed. However the first major task for the new boys was not an easy one as much against the rest of the band's wishes Deep Purple were to perform at the Royal Albert Hall London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform a piece written by Jon Lord.

This caused quite a stir at the time with classical loving members of the public being offended that their music was being hijacked by a group of long haired beatniks.

The event was a success and gave Jon Lord and the band some much needed publicity although a certain Blackmore wasn't too happy that Lord was getting all the spotlight and was seen as the main focus of the band.
 
In 1970 'Deep Purple... In Rock' was released and saw the band move in a much more progressive hard rock direction and paved the way for the band to become one of the biggest heavy rock bands in the word along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

'...In Rock' featured the distorted Hammond sounds of Lord and the fast demonic anger of Blackmore's guitar with screaming vocals from Gillan with thunderbolting rhythm from Glover and Paice and included the classics 'Speed King' and 'Child In Time' which had an eerie intro written by Jon Lord although it was cheekily borrowed from a song called 'Bombay Calling' by the folk band It's A Beautiful Day who would in return steal Purple's 'Wring That Neck' for their own use. The album was a massive hit and really opened them up to the European market.

The Mk II line-up would make three more albums including the experimental 'Fireball' in 71 and for many the ultimate classic with 'Machine Head' in 72 which featured 'Highway Star' and Deep Purple's most popular song 'Smoke On The Water' written after the band witnessed a fire at a Frank Zappa concert whilst recording the album in Montreux, Switzerland.

Deep Purple would also release one of the first milestone live albums with 'Made In Japan' which showcased the improvisations the band were famously were becoming known for in the live setting.

Although Ian Gillan left the band and Roger Glover quickly followed suit there was no let up in the rolling of the Deep Purple machine with the new boys, a young David Coverdale on vocals and from Trapeze, Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals.

With the release of 'Burn' in 1974, Deep Purple were one of the biggest grossing rock bands which saw the band fly around the world in their own private jet and headline the Californian Jam in front of a reported 250,00 people on a bill that also included ELP and Black Sabbath amongst many others.

Later that year they would release another studio album in 'Stormbringer', the last to feature Blackmore who was unhappy in the new funky soul direction the band was moving into.

Whilst all this success was going on Jon Lord still found time to work on classical projects including 'Gemini Suite', 'Windows' and 'Sarabande' as well as an album with Tony Ashton with 'Last Of The Big Bands' and a film soundtrack with 'The Last Rebel'.

There was one more album with Deep Purple in 'Come Taste The Band' in 1975 with new American guitarist Tommy Bolin. After a disastrous Asian tour the band finally imploded after a gig in Liverpool in 76 and Ian Paice and Jon Lord agreed to call Deep Purple a day. The drugs, stress and hard touring had finally taken their toll.

However it didn't take long for Jon Lord and Ian Paice to join forces again with Lord's old buddy Tony Ashton to form the short lived Paice, Ashton, Lord - or PAL for short - to record one album 'Malice In Wonderland', A funky jazz affair which also featured Bernie Marsden on guitar.

Between 1978-84 Jon Lord joined former Purple singer David Coverdale in Whitesnake who at times also had Ian Paice in the band.

Although the band were popular having hit albums and singles, Jon Lord was unhappy at just being a hired gun and not having the room to express himself in his playing as he had in Purple. With Coverdale wanting the age group of the band under the forty age bracket Lord left the band.

Jon Lord also found time to record another solo album in 82 with 'Before I Forget'.

In 1984 the world expressed surprise as one of the first ever reformations of a major rock band took place as it was announced that the classic Deep Purple Mk II line up of Gillan-Glover-Lord-Paice-Blackmore would record a new album and tour the world.

The resulting album, 'Perfect Strangers', didn't set the world alight as before but was still regarded as a good solid rock album. The reformation gave Jon Lord the chance again to hammer away on the Hammond to the delight of many rock fans.

Although the reformed Deep Purple would take many twists and turns throughout the years with Gillan leaving and re-rejoining and Canadian Steve Morse replacing Blackmore, giving Purple yet another new dimension and this line up toured the world harder than ever before.

Jon Lord finally retired from Deep Purple in 2002 reportedly after having trouble after knee surgery, but Lord was also finding life on the road a chore and was very saddened to be away on tour when his best friend Tony Ashton sadly passed away.

Jon Lord played his last official gig with Deep Purple in Ipswich 2002 but has guested with the band on many occasions since then. Jon Lord gave his blessing for Don Airey to be his replacement.

Jon Lord continued to make music and made the classical albums 'Pictured Within', 'Beyond The Notes' and more recently 'To Notice Such Things' which was released in 2010. Lord has continued to do occasional concerts, mainly in Germany and East Europe in places such as Bulgaria and Hungary despite having to receive treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Lord held a positive attitude in fighting the disease and more recently had been touring a re-working of 'Sarabande'.

Jon Lord has moved from darkness to light. He leaves behind his wife Vickie Lord and his daughters Amy and Sara.

Jonathan Douglas Lord 9th June 1941- 16th July 2012

Source: metaltalk.net

 

Her landmark deal for Vitol to export Libyan crude heralded the return of commodity houses to their swashbuckling roots, trading oil and grain with countries troubled by war and debt.

After years of backroom work focused on the dry business of building out storage, shipping and logistics operations, a small club of trading houses has jumped at the chance to land some old-fashioned big-profit deals.

They have had plenty of choice over the past year: war or unrest in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, sanctions on Iran, Greece on the brink of default.

A Libyan rebel vehicle passes a liquefied petroleum gas tank as it burns outside the town of Brega, 240km (149 miles) southwest of the eastern city of Benghazi, August 28, 2011. REUTERS-Darrin Zammit Lupi

"Trading houses are not shying away from places with high risk profiles if these profiles also lead to higher profit margins. It's about risk versus reward," said Ton Schurink at Geneva-based Commodity Finance Trading Advisory Services.

Vitol, Glencore, Gunvor and Trafigura in oil and Cargill, Louis Dreyfus and Bunge in grains have demonstrated that, for some at least, the security, credit and reputational risks are worth taking if the rewards are big enough.

Traders can operate in risky places because their business model is fundamentally different from the likes of BP or ExxonMobil.

Oil majors tend to be more wary of upsetting their home governments or shareholders and are bound to stricter rules when it comes to daily operations.

A sign is pictured in front of Vitol Group trading commodities company building in Geneva October 4, 2011. REUTERS-Denis Balibouse

And because trading companies are mostly private, there is nobody to second-guess their internal decisions and more room for a star trader to take a bold initiative.

"Can you imagine someone at Exxon saying I'm just going to override that rule and send my tanker into pirate waters because it's a good trade? In a trading house, you don't have to listen to the model as it's privately owned," said an industry source working for a European oil firm.

Estimates from rivals suggest a trader who dares to sell grains to sanctions-straitened Iran could pocket $2 million profit per Panamax-size cargo as opposed to $200,000 if the cargo is sold to a low-risk buyer.

Premiums of at least $1.25 million were charged per diesel fuel cargo heading to unrest-prone Egypt in June this year, just days before the presidential election.

"Everyone has the same commodity to sell so you have to take risks to distinguish yourself and then manage them," said Robert Petritsch, Chief Financial Officer of Swiss-based Quadra Commodities.

SAVING GREECE

Greece's credit rating is now worse than many African nations.

Perhaps not surprising then that many firms are cautious about supplying the partly state-owned Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum with crude oil.

"If a country defaults, then it's a different ball game entirely. Credit dries up. So costs go up," said a trader with a Swiss-based trading house.

The prospect of default hasn't scared off Glencore and Vitol.

The two traders are estimated to have given Greece at least 300 million euros in open credit financing - meaning it does not need guarantees from banks to buy crude. Both firms declined to comment.

The financial might of big trading houses enables them to act as both bank and supplier to clients who have limited access to credit, at the expense of others who either cannot or will not take that risk.

"No doubt the credit comes at a cost and can possibly provide an interesting margin," said Schurink. A Swiss-based oil trader agreed: "Every company tight on credit is prepared to pay a premium to the market."

Industry sources said that the traders had probably also negotiated refined products or oil assets as collateral.

In a similar scenario, Egypt's military rulers sought record supplies of fuel for the summer months, trying to avoid a repeat of shortages that led to public anger earlier this year.

But difficulty obtaining payments for earlier purchases and other costly delays prompted some suppliers to think again before participating in the record tender.

In the end, Egypt purchased close to $1.2 billion worth of fuel from trading houses including Vitol and Glencore, paying above market prices ahead of the first presidential election and amid fears of renewed instability. Again, both firms declined to comment on the deal.

"The premium is considerable - if the threat is real enough ... maybe 25 percent," said one trader with a firm that supplies fuel to Egypt.

A typical diesel cargo of 30,000 metric tons is worth some $25 million at current prices and so even a 5 percent premium would mean an additional cost of $1.25 million.

PLAYING WITH FIRE IN SYRIA

If in Libya traders bet on the rebels, in Syria the gamble was different.

Firms with investments there were reluctant to move out at first, but most dropped out as the death toll mounted and sanctions made it increasingly difficult to operate.

Around September 2011, Vitol and Trafigura abandoned the multi-million dollar Syrian market, but others like Switzerland's AOT Trading, Galaxy Group, based in Monaco, and Greek-based Naftomar exploited gaps in the sanctions regime.

This small pool kept the Syrian state supplied with diesel and heating gas for cooking throughout the winter, risking western opprobrium at a time when Assad's long-time allies Russia and Venezuela were the only other suppliers.

The deliveries were controversial not least because diesel is mainly used to power heavy vehicles including army tanks.

Naftomar, which supplied Syria with about $55 million a month of cooking gas, defended its position on the grounds its fuel may have prevented a worse humanitarian crisis.

Critics said that Naftomar, by delivering the fuel, might have been helping to extend Assad's rule.

Naftomar denied it was supporting Assad. "We were simply executing a contract that we had to sell LPG to a Syrian government related company. We stopped delivering to Syria when the sanctions were imposed," a Naftomar director said.

AOT and Galaxy Group did not respond to a request for comment.

EU sanctions targeting Syria's state-owned fuel distributor Mahrukat had forced trade to a halt by April this year.

Naftomar said that margins during the winter were "not excessive at all" and that it had since turned down requests to deliver fuel with "excellent" margins because of the embargo.

As in Syria, violence has deterred traditional suppliers from Yemen. Attacks on the energy infrastructure are costing up to $15 million a day in lost oil export revenue. Attacks on pipelines have halted flows to Yemen's, leaving the impoverished country even more dependent on imports.

Over the past year, Saudi Arabia has stepped in with donations worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But when donations from Riyadh dried up Yemen became more reliant on Vitol and Trafigura for refined products supplies under long-term and spot deals.

"If you get it wrong, Yemen can lose you a lot more money," said a trader with experience of doing business with its government.

Both Vitol and Trafigura declined to comment.

FEEDING IRAN

Gripped by U.S. and European oil and banking sanctions, Iran has become a profitable trade for grains suppliers including U.S.-based Cargill and Bunge, France's Louis Dreyfus and Glencore.

The measures against Iran's disputed nuclear program have led to a complex array of global restrictions on doing business there, stifling Iran's oil sales and forcing Tehran to pay more for food imports.

While grain and sugar trade are not under embargo, a freeze on financial dollar transactions has caused some former suppliers to Iran either to drop out or cut volumes.

But big trading firms with multi-billion dollar credit lines and a team of lawyers are able to find ways of navigating through the restrictions legally, industry sources said.

Margins for grain deliveries can be between $15-$30 a metric ton, industry sources familiar with the deals said, indicating a gross margin of up to $2 million for a typical shipment.

The Swiss-based trading arms of Cargill and Bunge are able to continue food deliveries to Iran using non-dollar payments.

"Dealing with countries under sanctions of the U.S., EU, Switzerland is always more difficult," said Henri Rieux, vice president of corporate affairs at Bunge.

"Nonetheless, such sanctions do always provide the potential trading companies with some, while admittedly limited, latitude to grant the countries under sanctions with the required food for their population," he added.

Glencore confirmed that it was able to continue deliveries of corn and soymeal to Iran in compliance with sanctions without giving details. Louis Dreyfus did not respond to a request for comment. Cargill declined to comment.

"I think with grains that you will never get into moral arguments. Even if you are providing one side of a conflict that is starving the other - is it better to let them starve as well?," a Swiss-based industry source said.

SWISS HAVEN

The majority of the big players are Swiss-based. Traders say Geneva makes a good hub for pulling the strings on deals such as food trade with Iran as traders need no special permission from Swiss authorities.

In theory, Swiss-based firms can still trade Iranian oil as Switzerland is outside the European Union's oil embargo, although most big traders say they have stopped dealing with Tehran.

Marie Avet, spokeswoman for the Swiss federal department responsible for sanctions, said that food payments to Iran needed to be declared to the government and confirmed that these transactions were continuing.

Rules for U.S. companies are more onerous since they require a special license from the Office of Foreign Asset Controls. EU firms have to get clearance from national authorities.

But even this perfectly legal trade comes with some occupational hazards as traders can get hit by fines for delays while waiting for Iranian counterparties to transfer payment.

"You can't get trade finance for deals involving Iran, so transactions have to be "cash against documents", which is risky if anything goes wrong," said lawyer Matthew Parish at Geneva law firm Holman Fenwick Willan.

When payment falls through, it can be hard to negotiate a resale of a distressed cargo to a third party near Iranian waters.

BACKFIRING

Sometimes the big bets backfire in unexpected ways.

In February, Swiss-based Trafigura bought a cargo of discounted oil the South Sudanese government said was seized by Sudan, its northern neighbor.

Trafigura says it made significant efforts to establish ownership but proceeds from the deal were seized by a British court and the matter is legally unresolved.

The row between the two countries led to border fighting and prompted South Sudan to shut oil production despite sourcing 98 percent of its revenue from the commodity.

Also in South Sudan, the government scrapped a contract with Glencore for crude marketing and other services citing unfavorable terms.

But in some places, like Libya, the pay-off can be huge.

In October 2011, Libya's interim council said it owed $1 billion in payments for fuel - a large portion of which was supplied by traders.

Vitol was the first trader to supply Muammar Gaddafi's opponents with a fuel lifeline and was subsequently granted access to half of the crude production from Libya's eastern oil firm Agoco as repayment.

In November, Vitol, Glencore, Gunvor and Trafigura were among those awarded term contracts, in a break with former Libyan policy of restricting sales only to refiners.

"We can't just eliminate the traders. They are a necessary evil," Ahmed Shawki, general manager for oil marketing at Libya's National Oil Corporation, said at the time.

Source: Reuters.com - additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, Michael Hogan in Hamburg. Editing by Richard Mably and William Hardy

 
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