Israel Prepares For Election

israelVoters in Israel are preparing to go to the polls in what is expected to be a tightly-fought election, to elect a leader.

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, faces a challenge from a Centre-left Alliance that has promised to restore ties with the Palestinians and the international community.

Candidates from both parties spent Monday making one last appeal to voters. Neither side is expected to get more than a quarter of the votes.

While results could be declared soon after the close of polls, a definitive conclusion appears likely to take some time.

A lengthy period of negotiations over the formation of the next coalition government could follow.

No party has ever won an outright majority in Israel’s election, meaning it has always been governed by a coalition.

Much of the focus of the campaign has been on international issues, from Israel’s relationship with the United States to concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.

But many of the candidates have concentrated on socio-economic problems in Israel, including the high cost of living and slow economic growth.

The future of the city of Jerusalem has been a central election issue.

Mr Netanyahu has consistently accused his centre-left challengers of being willing to relinquish Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible capital in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

But Zionist Union party co-leader, Yitzhak Herzog, has accused Mr Netanyahu of “panicking”.

Visiting the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, on Sunday, he pledged to “safeguard Jerusalem and its residents in actions, not just words, more than any other leader”.

Arsenal Sign Kit Deal With Puma, Indicate Arsene Wenger Will Sign New Contract

Eurosport – Arsenal Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis and Manager, Arsene Wenger

Arsenal has signed a new kit supply deal with German company Puma that begins on July 1, ending a partnership with Nike.

Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis made the formal announcement on Monday (January 27) and at the same time gave the clearest indication yet that Frenchman Arsene Wenger would remain as manager at Arsenal, indicating that finalising a new contract was just a matter of time.

The Puma deal, worth around 30 million pounds (around 50 million USD) a season, will help Arsenal to compete with the top clubs in Europe in the transfer market.

“From the first of July, 2014 Puma will become our official kit partner. They will be producing our match day and training kits across all of our teams next season. They have also acquired extensive rights to produce other Arsenal-branded merchandise which will be sold all around the world,” Gazidis said.

Puma Chief Executive, Bjoern Gulden, said that the deal was something his company had sought for a long time. “We always wanted the kit deal and now we have it,” he said.

Helped by an enhanced sponsorship deal with airline Emirates, the North London club spent a club record 42.5 million pounds on German Mesut Ozil at the start of this season, and Gazidis indicated that Wenger would be at the club to spend more in the future.

“We’ve always supported Arsene, the board has always been completely behind him as has (owner) Stan Kroenke,” Gazidis told a news conference when asked about the future of the manager whose contract runs out at the end of the season.

“We are comfortable in the position, relaxed about it. As I’ve said before, Arsene will be extending with us and at the right time we’ll make that announcement,” he added.

Wenger has been Arsenal manager since 1996 and has led the club to three Premier League titles and four FA Cups.

However, the trophies have dried up since 2005 although Arsenal have continued to qualify for the Champions League, and currently lead the Premier League by one point.

Arsene Wenger Speaks About The Future Of Defender Bacary Sagna

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has played down concerns regarding right back Bacary Sagna, who is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to commit to the Gunners.

Reports have linked the defender with possible interest from top French clubs Paris St Germain and Monaco.

“At the moment if Sagna doesn’t extend his contract we will have to do that, but at the moment I must say we look at Southampton’s game rather than the long term future, we try to, of course, secure Sagna because for me he is a very important player for the group, ” he said, ” But he’s fully committed and as long as he stays here he will be fully committed in every single game.”

Wenger also tried to be realistic about the fifth round FA Cup draw, which pits Arsenal against Liverpool. ” An interesting draw, and a difficult one, ” he said ” We have a little advantage by playing at home, that means we don’t travel, but overall it’s of course a great difficulty and we try again to absorb it and come out of it again in a positive way.”

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Premier League fixture against ninth-placed Southampton, Wenger agrees the South Coast club have been punching above their weight ” They are above expected, and the quality of their display has been very very good and everybody goes today to Southampton he , of course, knows that he will get a difficult game and that’s why we want to focus on being our best tomorrow night because Southampton, in our plan is a game where you want to take the points but you know you really have to fight to get them.”

Arsenal lead the Premier League by a single point over Manchester City, and are still in the Champions League, as well as the FA Cup.

US,China In Joint Persuasion Of North Korea

[highlight txtcolor=”#oooff”]The international community is still seeking a lasting solution to the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula, seeking a diplomatic solution among other things, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited China for talks, and he was received by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who emphasized the common interest between the two countries.[/highlight]

By this, China and the US have vowed to work together to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programme and to settle tensions through dialogue.

A Chinese statement issued during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry said the nuclear issue was the “shared responsibility of all parties”.

Mr Kerry said the two sides must decide “very quickly” how to proceed.

North Korea has recently threatened nuclear attacks, and is feared to be preparing a missile launch.

Li Keqiang told Kerry during their meeting in Beijing that China and U.S. indeed have huge common interest. Decades of practice after establishment of Sino-U.S. diplomatic relations has proven that our common interest is far more than dispute. In addition, as big countries, China and U.S. have responsibility to maintain the peace and stability of region and the world.

Kerry is also meeting China’s top leaders in an effort to persuade them to exert pressure on North Korea to scale back its belligerent rhetoric and, eventually, return to nuclear talks.

John Kerry believes that china, being the North’s main trading partner, financial backer and the closest thing it has to a diplomatic ally, is able to leverage its relationship and bring North Korea back on track.

“We very much look forward to building on what the president just described to me as the potential of a new model, a model relationship, obviously this is a critical time in the region as well as in the world. We are very grateful to China for its cooperation with us on Iran and on a number of other issues,” Kerry told Li during the meeting.

Kerry met Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier today and is scheduled to also meet State Councilor later.

South Korea’s New President Demands North Drop Nuclear Ambitions

South Korea’s new president Park Geun-hye urged North Korea on Monday to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and to stop wasting its scarce resources on arms, less than two weeks after the country carried out its third nuclear test.

In her inauguration speech, the country’s first female president, also called on South Koreans to help revive the nation’s export-dependent economy whose trade is threatened by neighboring Japan’s weak yen policy.

Park, the 61-year-old daughter of South Korea’s former military ruler Park Chung-hee, met with the father of North Korea’s current ruler in 2002 and offered the impoverished and isolated neighbor aid and trade if it abandoned its nuclear program.

“I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development,” Park said after being inaugurated on Monday.

Park, usually an austere and demure figure in her public appearances, wore an olive-drab military style jacket and lavender scarf on Monday and smiled broadly and waved enthusiastically as a 70,000 strong crowd cheered her.

Rap sensation Psy was one of the warm up acts on an early spring day outside the country’s parliament and performed his “Gagnam Style” hit, but without some of the raunchier actions.

Park’s tough stance was supported by the partisan and largely older crowd at her inauguration.

“I have trust in her as the first female president … She has to be more aggressive on North Korea,” said Jeong Byung-ok, 44, who was at the ceremony with her four-year-old daughter.

PARK FACES CHOICE: PAY OFF PYONGYANG OR ISOLATE NORTH

North Korea is ruled by 30-year-old Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to hold power in Pyongyang and the grandson of a man who tried to assassinate Park’s father.

The North, which is facing further U.N. sanctions for its latest nuclear test, which was its biggest and most powerful to date, is unlikely to heed Park’s call and there is little Seoul can do to influence its bellicose neighbor.

Park’s choices boil down to paying off Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons plan, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and failed in 2006 when the North exploded its first nuclear bomb. Alternatively, Seoul could try to further isolate the North, a move that resulted in the 2010 sinking of a South Korean ship and the shelling of a South Korean island.

Referring to the fast economic growth under her father’s rule, which drove war-torn South Korea from poverty to the ranks of the world’s richest nations, Park urged Koreans to re-create the spirit of the “Miracle on the Han”.

Park wants to create new jobs, in a country where young people often complain of a lack of opportunities, and boost welfare, although she hasn’t spelled out how she will do either.

Growth in South Korea has fallen sharply since the days of Park’s father who oversaw periods of 10 percent plus economic expansion. The Bank of Korea expects the economy to grow just 2.8 percent this year and 2.8 percent in 2014.

Park also faces a challenge from a resurgent Japan whose exports have risen sharply after new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on a policy to weaken the yen currency.

The won has jumped five percent in 2013 against the yen after a 23 percent gain in 2012, boosting the competitiveness of Japanese exports of cars and electronics against the same goods that South Korean firms produce.

Park last week said she would take “pre-emptive” action on the weak yen, but has yet to specify what action she will take.

North Korea Threatens War With South Korea Over U.N. Sanctions

North Korea has threatened to attack rival South Korea if Seoul joined a new round of tightened U.N. sanctions, as Washington unveiled more of its own economic restrictions following Pyongyang’s rocket launch last month.

In a third straight day of fiery rhetoric, the North directed its verbal onslaught at its neighbor on Friday, saying: “‘Sanctions’ mean a war and a declaration of war against us.”

The reclusive North has this week declared a boycott of all dialogue aimed at ending its nuclear program and vowed to conduct more rocket and nuclear tests after the U.N. Security Council censured it for a December long-range missile launch.

“If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the U.N. ‘sanctions,’ the DPRK will take strong physical counter-measures against it,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said, referring to the South.

The committee is the North’s front for dealings with the South. DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea’s December rocket launch on Tuesday and expanded existing U.N. sanctions.

On Thursday, the United States slapped economic sanctions on two North Korean bank officials and a Hong Kong trading company that it accused of supporting Pyongyang’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading Ltd, was separately blacklisted by the United Nations on Wednesday.

Seoul has said it will look at whether there are any further sanctions that it can implement alongside the United States, but said the focus for now is to follow Security Council resolutions.

The resolution said the council “deplores the violations” by North Korea of its previous resolutions, which banned Pyongyang from conducting further ballistic missile and nuclear tests and from importing materials and technology for those programs. It does not impose new sanctions on Pyongyang.

The United States had wanted to punish North Korea for the rocket launch with a Security Council resolution that imposed entirely new sanctions against Pyongyang, but Beijing rejected that option. China agreed to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after North Korea’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

NUCLEAR TEST WORRY

North Korea’s rhetoric this week amounted to some of the angriest outbursts against the outside world coming under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the comments were worrying.

“We are very concerned with North Korea’s continuing provocative behavior,” he said at a Pentagon news conference.

“We are fully prepared … to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans. But I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family.”

Putin Warns U.S. on Russia’s Nuclear Weapon

The fight against nuclear weapons programme chaired by the United States of America is generating so much bad blood in the international community.

As President Vladimir Putin in his recent statement backed Iran’s move on their nuclear programme which has been one of the world’s major issue that the west led by the United States has planned to run aground the programme and seek a regime change in Iran.

He also warned the United States to steer clear Russia’s nuclear weapons programme as it intends to keep its programme running and the reason being that it would keep the U.S. power under check. Putin said they are suspicious of the move of the U.S. as they preach against weapons of mass destruction but their agenda is different.

Russia has longstanding commercial and military ties with Iran and has condemned unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union over its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Putin’s tough talk came as he toured a nuclear research centre in the once-secret city of Sarov ahead of a March 4 presidential election in which he is widely expected to secure a return to the Kremlin.

Putin often clashed with the United States while president between 2000 and 2008 and has remained a key decision-maker in the past four years who spearheaded Russia’s criticism of the NATO-led air campaign in Libya. Russia now faces both Western and Arab world condemnation for its refusal to blame Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for an 11-month crackdown on street protests that the opposition says has claimed more than 7,600 lives.