Official slams Republicans
Treasurer Wayne Swan, in an unusually blunt criticism of US politics weeks before the presidential election, said “cranks and crazies” had taken over the US’ Republican Party. Swan also labeled the Tea Party wing of the Republicans as “extreme.” “Let’s be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world’s biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican Party,” Swan said in a speech to a conference in Sydney. The Republican Party’s position on the US budget had led a year ago to the deadlock in negotiations, Swan said, to prevent the looming “fiscal cliff” — nearly US$600 billion in planned spending cuts and tax hikes that will bite early next year. “Despite President Obama’s goodwill and strong efforts, the national interest was held hostage by the rise of the extreme Tea Party wing of the Republican Party,” he said.
US surge troops withrdraw
The last of the 33,000 US soldiers that US President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan nearly three years ago as part of a military surge has left the country, US defense officials said Thursday. The withdrawal of surge troops, which began in July, follows an unprecedented number of Western soldiers being shot dead by their Afghan colleagues — 51 so far this year — and as anti-West protests sweep Muslim countries. There are still about 68,000 US military forces in Afghanistan, as well as around 40,000 from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force coalition.
Pussy Riot get unlikely fan
Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is calling for the release of the members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot. At an event organized by Amnesty International on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi accepted a bouquet from family members of one of the group’s three members, Nadia Tolokonnikova. The punk band members were sentenced last month to two years in prison for performing an irreverent song mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin inside Moscow’s main cathedral. Responding to a question, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “I don’t see why people should not sing whatever they want to sing.”
President accepts probe
President Lee Myung-bak yesterday accepted an independent investigation into alleged irregularities surrounding a now-defunct project to build his retirement home after he leaves office. The probe is potentially embarrassing for Lee’s ruling conservative New Frontier Party with December’s presidential election just 90 days away. Lee waived his rights to veto a parliamentary motion calling for a special prosecutor to look into the house scheme, presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha told reporters.
Diamond to go on auction
A 76-carat diamond, billed as one of the most famous in the world, is expected to fetch well over US$15 million when it hits the auction block in November, Christie’s said yesterday. The colossal gem, which Christie’s said was the finest and largest perfect Golconda diamond ever to appear at auction, is perfect in color and is internally flawless. “The legendary Golconda mines in India produced some of the world’s most famous diamonds, including the Dresden Green, the Blue Hope, and the Koh-i-Noor [in the Royal Collection at the Tower of London],” Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas and Switzerland, told Reuters. The diamond, named the Archduke Joseph Diamond for one of its former owners, is the highlight of Christie’s sale of precious gems in Geneva in November, the auction house said in a statement. A Christie’s spokeswoman said the owner of the diamond wanted to remain anonymous. Prices for rare, top quality diamonds have soared in recent years. Higher prices attained in recent years include the Wittelsbach Diamond — a 17th-century cushion-shaped deep grayish-blue diamond, which sold for US$24.3 million in 2008 at Christie’s in London.