Nigerian Toll, China/Russia Gas Deal, French Rail Fail

Hundreds of Thais protested the army's decision to impose martial law.
Hundreds of Thais protested the army's decision to impose martial law.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden threatened Moscow with tougher sanctions if it undermines Sunday’s planned presidential election in Ukraine. “If Russia undermines these elections on Sunday we must remain resolute in imposing greater costs on Russia and we must be equally resolute to invest in the NATO alliance," Reuters quoted him as saying. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Washington had spent $11.4 million “to support free and fair elections in Ukraine,” adding that the OSCE had sent 1,000 election observers, Interfax reports.

  • Australia has expanded its list of people targeted by asset freezes and travel bans, adding 38 names from Vladimir Putin’s close circle of friends and allies, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

  • The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, also weighed in on the crisis, as he reportedly told a Polish survivor of Nazi Germany’s regime during a visit in Canada: “And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler.” Some voices in the UK have urged Charles to avoid making such baldly political comments.

General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the leader of Thailand’s army, is chairing a meeting with representatives of both ruling and opposition parties in a first step towards national reconciliation, one day after declaring martial law, South China Morning Post reports. The current caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan is believed to have been left out of the meeting. On Tuesday hundreds of Thais protested the army's decision to impose martial law.

The toll is at least 118 confirmed dead, with more bodies feared trapped under the rubble, in the central Nigerian town of Jos after twin bombings yesterday brought down several buildings, The Nigerian Tribune reports. So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, but many suspect the terrorist group Boko Haram. This morning, the Islamist group was also accused of carrying another attack which left 17 people dead in a village close to where it abducted close to 300 schoolgirls last month. Read more from the BBC.

"In 20 years of politics, I have never insulted anyone,” Silvio Berlusconi told Jeremy Paxman in a rare TV interview. Right.


China and Russia signed a 30-year gas agreement that will see Moscow export 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas every year beginning in 2018, RT reports. No price details were disclosed, but Financial Timesestimated the deal’s value at $456 billion. The historic deal, which comes after 10 years of negotiations, was described earlier this week by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as one that would help Moscow diversify into new markets, amid growing tensions with Europe over the Ukrainian crisis. According to AP, the agreement is “a financial and diplomatic boost” for Vladimir Putin and Russia and should end China’s gas shortages.

In an embarrassing blunder, the French train operator SNCF announced it must spend at least 50 million euros to reconfigure hundreds of platforms after it turned out the 2,000 new trains it ordered were too large.

The American Justice Department is set to release a secret memo that justified the killing of American citizens abroad as part of the drone strikes campaign against suspected terrorists,The New York Times reports.

Taking a sizable stake in Deutsche Bank, Qatari investors are once again showing a strategy that is single-minded by definition, write Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Simone Boehringer and Thomas Fromm: “The amount of money involved is indeed formidable. The Qatar Investment Authority boasts an estimated $200 billion, which means they’re not too choosy with their investments as long as they bring in high returns. The firms on the Qatari shopping list include the Merck Fink, Credit Suisse and Barclays banks, the Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, Siemens, the beleaguered manufacturer of photovoltaic products Solarworld, Royal Dutch Shell — but also Tiffany's, Louis Vuitton, the London stock exchange, Lagardère and German construction company Hochtief. What such portfolios show is that Gulf investors tend not to limit themselves to specific kinds of companies, and certainly not to individual countries.”
Read the full article, What's Driving Gulf Cash To European Holdings.

A Cairo court sentenced former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to three years in a maximum security prison after finding him guilty of corruption,Daily News Egypt reports. Mubarak, who was toppled during the 2011 uprising, has been kept in a military hospital since being freed in August after last summer’s coup. His sons Gamal and Alaa were sentenced to four years of imprisonment on several charges, including corruption.

The National September 11 Museum at Ground Zero in New York City opens to the public for the first time today, amid a series of controversies that include its admission price ($24), the decision to expose some 8,000 unidentified human remains and the gift shop, leading the father of a victim to say the museum was a “revenue-generating tourist attraction.” Read more from CNN.


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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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