Archive for August, 2011

Bahrain activists blame police in boy’s death

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 | Finance News

MANAMA, Bahrain – Bahraini security forces clashed with anti-government protesters after Wednesday morning prayers, killing a 14-year-old boy who died after being hit by a police tear gas canister, human rights activists said.

The activists blamed the police for the death of Ali Jawad Ahmad, who was among the crowd of protesters in the oil hub of Sitra.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights cited witnesses as saying the boy died after being hit by a tear gas canister fired at close range by police during the demonstration.

Bahraini officials confirmed a 14-year-old lost his life but gave no other details on the possible cause of death. A statement by the Interior Ministry said there was no reported police action in Sitra at the time the boy's death was reported.

It said an investigation was ordered into the death.

Isa Hassan, an uncle of the dead teen, claimed police overreacted when confronted by a small group of protesters after morning prayers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Hassan said the tear gas was fired from about 21 feet (seven meters) away directly at the protesters.

"They are supposed to lob the canisters of gas, not shoot them at people," he said at the funeral for the boy. "Police used it as a weapon."

Bahrain has been gripped by ongoing clashes between police and Shiite-led protesters demanding greater rights and political freedoms in the tiny Gulf nation that is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

More than 30 people have been killed since protests began in February inspired by other uprisings across the Arab world.

Shiites are the majority in Bahrain but claim widespread discrimination by the ruling Sunni dynasty. Sunni rulers in the Gulf fear any concessions by Bahrain's Al Khalifa family to protesters would strengthen the region's Shiite powerhouse Iran.

Small-scale clashes between police and mostly Shiite demonstrators have become a near nightly event in the tense Gulf nation since authorities lifted emergency rule in June.


Planned layoffs decline in August: Challenger

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 | Finance News

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms declined 23 percent in August after rising for three straight months, with the government sector again leading the job cuts, a report showed on Wednesday.

Employers announced 51,114 planned job cuts, down from 66,414 in July, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Planned cuts in July had marked a 16-month high.

"In August, the private sector once again took a backseat to the government sector, which saw job cuts surge to the second highest monthly total this year," John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.

But July's planned job cuts were up 47 percent from August 2010, when they were at 34,768. For 2011 so far, employers have announced 363,334 cuts, somewhat better than the 374,121 cuts announced in the first eight months of 2010.

More job cuts are expected at the federal government level with pressure to cut the federal budget, the report said.

Cuts in the government sector accounted for 18,426 of the announced layoffs in August, and 105,406 for the year so far.

"Meanwhile, the private sector is still being hampered by low consumer and business spending. While we do not see any indication of a sudden resurgence in private-sector job cuts, conditions definitely are not ideal for hiring," said Challenger.

The report comes two days ahead of the key U.S. jobs report. It is forecast to show nonfarm payrolls increased by 75,000 in August, according to a Reuters survey, slowing from July's 117,000 rise.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Leslie Adler)


ConocoPhillips says 99 pct of China spill cleared

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 | Finance News

SHANGHAI – Under fire for oil spills off China's eastern coast, ConocoPhillips says it has finished collecting virtually all oil and drilling mud released into Bohai Bay, meeting a deadline to finish its cleanup by Wednesday.

China's State Oceanic Administration, however, criticized the oil company's handling of the spills that began in June and said it would work with those affected, reportedly including scallops growers in the area, to seek compensation for damage.

The administration had ordered ConocoPhillips China to complete the cleanup and fully contain the oil seeps by Aug. 31 or face unspecified harsher action.

Of 16 small seeps found in the Penglai 19-3 oil field, only two were still visible and known to be sometimes active, ConocoPhillips China said. The seeps are of residual oil and drilling mud that has been shifting to the seabed from beneath a layer of sand, it says.

"While we are still cleaning up residual material on the seabed ... we believe we have achieved the 'two completes' by the deadline," the company said in a statement.

The company, which operates wells in the field in a venture with state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp., said about 2 liters (a half-gallon) of oil and drilling mud were being released each day, with minimal damage to the environment.

The company said it is working on long-term solutions to prevent recurrences of the spills, which it has said were possibly triggered by pressure from drilling injections that leaked through natural faults in the seabed.

"As an extra precaution, the company will continue to search for and cleanup any residual mineral oil based mud that we may encounter," it said. Such mud is used as a drilling lubricant.

The local outcry over the spills reflects growing pressures on the Bohai, a major fisheries base, from rapid industrialization, especially in the energy sector. On the gulf's northeastern end lies Dalian, where residents have marched to protest chemical factories, and fretted over oil spills and fires at refineries.

Local reports say 165 offshore rigs are operating in 20 Bohai oil fields.

China's oceanic administration and environmental groups have accused Houston-based ConocoPhillips of being slow to react to continuing small seeps within the Penglai field. It says oil spread up to 5,500 square kilometers (2,124 miles), with the worst damage in a 870 square kilometer (336 square mile) area.

Reports in the state-run media have likened the incident to last year's BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, though the 3,200 barrels of oil and mud released in Bohai Bay is a small fraction of the 4.9 million barrels unleashed when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, spewing out of control for months.

ConocoPhillips said it has permanently sealed the fault where the seeps have occurred and has placed containment devices over them to capture any leakage.

"There is no oil reaching the sea surface from the seep," it said.

The intense public scrutiny appears to reflect a renewed push by China's environmental authorities to crack down on a wide range of problems, including toxic metal contamination, failed sewage treatment systems and unsafe handling of dangerous waste.

Water quality along the country's heavily industrialized coastlines has sharply deteriorated in recent years.

ConocoPhillips said its own sampling of oil particles found along several thousand kilometers (hundreds of miles) of shorelines found that only five of 75 samples appeared related to the Bohai spill. Most appeared similar to fuel oil, it said.

Along the way, the survey crews collected 13,600 kilograms (nearly 30,000 pounds) of trash, the company said.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects day in paragraph 1 to Wednesday)