Monthly Archives: July 2019

Lotus target fourth place with Raikkonen

JEREZ, Spain (Reuters) –

Champions Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes all finished above former champions Renault last year but Lotus team co-owner Gerard Lopez said beating one of them was a realistic aim.

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“The hopes are to have a strong car, strong drivers, of which one of them is obviously an ex-world champion,” he declared in a factory presentation of the new Renault-powered E20 car on the Lotus website (www.lotusf1.com).

“Then you have to bring the car up to the front of the pack, probably trying to aim for fourth as a reasonable goal for this season.”

Raikkonen has not raced in Formula One since 2009, when he left Ferrari to make way for double champion Fernando Alonso and embark on a new life in rallying.

The Finn, triumphant in 18 grands prix with McLaren and Ferrari and 2007 title winner with the Italian team, is one of an unprecedented six champions together on the starting grid this year.

His team mate is French driver Romain Grosjean, the GP2 champion who started seven races for Renault in 2009 without scoring a point.

PRETTY NORMAL

“I am happy to be back,” Raikkonen, never the most loquacious soul in the paddock, said when reminded how difficult seven-times champion Michael Schumacher had found coming back with Mercedes.

“It will be something slightly different than it used to be when I was in Formula One with a different team. A little bit different regulations but everybody’s different. Some people have more difficulties in getting used to new stuff.

“It depends a lot on the car. If you have a good car it makes life much easier than if you have an average one. I was pretty happy after the first test we did a few weeks ago and it felt pretty normal already,” added Raikkonen, who drove a two-year-old car at Valencia last month.

The new black and gold E20 is named after the team’s Enstone factory as the 20th car the workforce have built there going back to the days of Toleman, Benetton and Renault.

Both Benetton and Renault won titles, the latter in 2005 and 2006 with Alonso.

The first chassis from Enstone made under the Lotus name had the distinctive stepped nose seen on all the cars launched so far, with the exception of McLaren. There was also new sponsorship from Unilever brands Rexona and Clear.

It will be fired up Monday before the first pre-season test starts at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain Tuesday.

“The people (here) know how to build a good car and even the biggest teams cannot produce every year the winning car…they are very capable people and have a good feeling of things and are pushing hard so hopefully we get good results,” said Raikkonen.

Renault were just four points ahead of sixth-placed Force India last year, with Russian Vitaly Petrov as main driver and Brazilian Bruno Senna replacing Germany’s Nick Heidfeld for the latter half of the championship.

(Editing by Mark Meadows)

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Pakistan indicts seven over Bhutto murder

Nobody has been convicted or jailed for Bhutto’s murder in Rawalpindi in a gun and suicide attack after she addressed an election rally on December 27 that year.

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Police say that three other suspects in the high-profile case have been killed – including the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud – and two remain at large.

“Seven accused including two police officers have been indicted,” public prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told AFP on Saturday.

The police were arrested a year ago while the suspected militants have been in custody for nearly four years.

The police officers were Saud Aziz, who was the Rawalpindi police chief at the time of the killing, and Khurram Shahzad, another senior policeman.

The seven were indicted at the court in a high-security prison in Rawalpindi.

The five alleged militants are accused of “criminal conspiracy” for bringing the suicide bomber from the tribal belt in the northwest and keeping him at a house in Rawalpindi.

“(All) the accused denied the charges and demanded for trial,” Azhar said, adding that the police officers were accused of a security breach and for their “failure” to protect Bhutto.

At the time of her death, then president Pervez Musharraf blamed Mehsud for the killing.

Musharraf, who lives in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai, is also wanted over Bhutto’s death. Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant in February over what they said was his failure to provide her with enough security.

The former president and military ruler is alleged to have been part of a “broad conspiracy” to have his political rival killed before elections. He denies the allegation.

The anti-terrorism court in August ordered the confiscation of Musharraf’s property and the freezing of his bank accounts in Pakistan, the prosecutor said.

Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009, one of the most high-profile casualties of the covert American campaign targeting al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border.

Bhutto, who served two terms as prime minister, had returned from exile two months before she was killed to stand for election.

Her widower Asif Ali Zardari led her Pakistan People’s Party to election victory in February 2008 and is now president.

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2011 an ‘annus mirabilis’ for Britain’s royals

After the world watched Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton, the celebrations in 2012 for Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee should put the icing on an “annus mirabilis” for the British royals.

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When they gather for Christmas at the queen’s Sandringham estate, the Windsors can reflect on a spectacular year — and look forward to one which is likely to cement their status as the world’s most popular royal family.

William and Catherine, as she is now known, tied the knot on April 29, in a glittering ceremony that breathed new life into Britain’s monarchy, as two billion viewers worldwide were swept up in the royal magic.

And another four-day feast of regal proportions is planned when the country marks the queen’s 60 years on the throne, the month before it welcomes the world to London for the 2012 Olympics.

The extremely rare diamond jubilee will witness an extended four-day weekend in Britain from June 2-5, featuring street parties, a concert at Buckingham Palace, a gigantic pageant on the River Thames, and a carriage procession.

“What they’re doing is tapping into the mood they were able to capture with the royal wedding,” said Katie Nicholl, The Mail on Sunday newspaper’s royal editor.

“It’s been a fantastic year for the royal family. The wedding really lifted not just the royals but the whole country,” she told AFP.

“It has been a perfect year for the queen and everything has gone her way. It’s quite miraculous. It has been one great occasion after another. Every time we’ve seen her she’s looked so happy.”

Besides the royal wedding, 2011 saw the 85-year-old sovereign undertake two successful tours.

She made a groundbreaking visit to the Republic of Ireland in May, healing old wounds, while her trip to Australia in October started out being called a farewell tour for its head of state, and ended up reviving royal fervour and melting republican sentiment.

The queen saw her husband Prince Philip turn 90 in June with a typical lack of fuss, and a second royal wedding when eventing world champion Zara Philips, her oldest granddaughter, married England rugby star Mike Tindall in July.

William’s brother Prince Harry meanwhile did his Apache attack helicopter training.

It is all a far cry from 1992, when the monarchy hit a low ebb in what Queen Elizabeth called her “annus horribilis”. Windsor Castle was wrecked in a fire, while three of her children’s marriages fell apart.

Worse followed in 1997 when Diana, princess of Wales was killed in a car crash and the royals’ reaction prompted accusations they were out-of-touch and insensitive.

But since then, the House of Windsor has gradually modernised the monarchy, work which seems to have paid dividends in 2011.

William and Catherine, both 29, have settled down to married life on Anglesey in northwest Wales, where the prince is a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot.

The couple made their first overseas tour in June and July, visiting Canada and California, where they were given an ecstatic welcome.

But they will be forced to spend six weeks apart in February and March when William will deploy to the Falkland Islands.

With an eye on William and Catherine, leaders from the 16 realms at the October Commonwealth summit in Australia agreed to scrap centuries-old laws barring first-born daughters or anyone married to a Roman Catholic from inheriting the British throne.

“Kate has brought glamour to the royal family, renewed interest and everybody is keen to see where they go from here,” Richard Palmer, the Daily Express newspaper’s royal correspondent, told AFP.

“They’ve deliberately stepped backwards in the last few months. They’ve tried to put the spotlight back on the queen.

“The jubilee is a landmark occasion to celebrate this remarkable woman who has been on the world stage now for 60 years and done an incredible job in her own special, understated way.

“2012 is going to be almost as busy as 2011. The jubilee is going to dominate the year — unless Kate gets pregnant.”

Other European monarchies made headlines in 2011 with weddings and baby announcements.

Monaco had its own royal wedding in July, when Prince Albert II married South African former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.

In Denmark, Crown Princess Mary gave birth to twins in January, Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine. Queen Margrethe II marks her 40 years on the throne next month.

Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria is due to give birth in March, ending a year of speculation about when she would produce the next heir to the throne.

Meanwhile Belgium’s King Albert II spent the entire year steering feuding politicians from the Flemish and Walloon communities towards finally forming a government after a record-breaking 18-month crisis which finally ended Tuesday.

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Huntsman announces White House bid

Former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has launched his 2012 White House bid, calling for the US to withdraw from conflicts to rebuild ‘our core here at home.

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“We are a nation at war and we must manage the end of these conflicts without repeating past mistakes that made our engagement longer and our sacrifices greater than they should have been,” Huntsman said.

“It’s not that we wish to disengage from the world… but rather that we believe the best national security strategy is rebuilding our core here at home,” the former Utah governor declared to scores of supporters.

Emulating conservative icon Ronald Reagan, Huntsman launched his campaign in a New Jersey state park in sight of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline scarred by the September 11, 2001 attacks.

He also vowed to reverse the US decline and sharply assailed the handling of the economy by his former boss, who he is now looking to unseat, Democratic President Barack Obama.

“For the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got,” Huntsman said.

His speech came a day before Obama was due to announce the scope and pace of a withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in the face of steep US public opposition to the decade-old war.

The 51-year-old expressed “respect” for Obama as well as for his fellow Republican presidential hopefuls, insisting the voters will decide “who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”

But he savaged Obama’s handling of the economy during the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, saying “we need more than hope” in a mocking reference to the “hope and change” mantra of Obama’s historic 2008 campaign.

Huntsman, whose Mormon faith could prove an obstacle for some evangelical Christian voters, painted himself as the right candidate to “make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster.”

And he warned that the swelling US debt risked smothering the economy and weighing down Washington’s global leadership.

“Our influence in the world will wane. Our security will grow ever-more precarious. And the 21st century will then be known as the end of the American century. We can’t accept this, and we won’t,” said Huntsman.

He called for overhauling the US tax code and rolling back regulations that Republicans blame for stalling job growth.

But a spokesman for the 2012 Obama campaign, Ben Bolt, hit back with a swipe at Huntsman’s economic policies.

“Instead of proposing a plan that will allow middle class families to reclaim their economic security, governor Huntsman is proposing a return to the failed economic policies that led us into the recession,” Bolt said in a statement.

The former diplomat, who has just completed 20 months in Beijing and served in Reagan’s White House, possesses what are widely considered to be the best foreign policy credentials of a crowded Republican field.

But Huntsman trails far behind Republican front-runner and fellow Mormon Mitt Romney, and after a later rally in Exeter, New Hampshire, resident Bob Hantman, 70, said he was still “very undecided.”

“He’s got impressive credentials, he’s obviously a very bright, hard-working man — all the adjectives I would put in front of Obama,” Hantman said.

With his fluent Mandarin, Huntsman is well regarded in China, also because one of his seven children, Gracie Mei, was adopted from China. He was known for preferring his bicycle to chauffeur-driven armored limousines.

He helped Washington navigate a particularly thorny time in relations between the world’s top two economies as they battled over everything from the yuan and trade to Taiwan and Internet freedom.

Among Republicans, however, he is not well known — and sizable numbers who know his name consider his work for the Obama administration to be an unpardonable betrayal.

Huntsman, the son of a chemical billionaire, has countered that he was serving his country when he worked under the Obama administration.

But he has also praised Obama’s economic stimulus package, backed civil unions for gay couples, and supported a “cap-and-trade” plan to curb greenhouse gases blamed for global warming — all targets of Republican scorn.

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Obama warns US on debt

The International Monetary Fund warned Wednesday that the US debt burden is perilously unsustainable but advised against too-sharp fiscal adjustments that would slow the fragile economy.

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In its annual assessment of the US financial situation, the IMF said that if the United States did not hike its debt ceiling soon to accommodate spending commitments, the impact could wreak havoc on global markets.

“Fiscal policy consolidation needs to proceed as debt dynamics are unsustainable and losing fiscal credibility would be extremely damaging,” the Fund said.

“The main policy challenge is to implement a substantial and durable fiscal consolidation effort while ensuring that the still-fragile recovery remains on track.”

Despite its dangerously heavy debt burden, the United States needs to increase the $14.29 trillion cap on borrowings to avoid defaulting on its debt and sparking “a severe shock to the economy and world financial markets,” the IMF said.

The US Treasury has forecast that it could be forced to hold back payments on borrowings beginning on August 2 if the cap is not raised.

The IMF said US growth would remain slow, with the economy expanding 2.5 percent in 2011 and 2.7 percent annually over 2012-2013, with the high unemployment and the comatose housing market acting as heavy drags.

It said slow growth in the first half of this year — the first quarter registered a dull 1.9 percent pace — was in part the result of higher oil prices and “transient factors” like the disruptions to industry after the March 11 Japanese earthquake-tsunami disaster.

Weighing in to the current battle between President Barack Obama’s administration and congressional Republicans over how to address the country’s huge debt and deficits, the IMF warned that deficit cuts proposed in February’s budget could be too large and fast, given the current economic weakness.

Yet, it pointed out, the same cuts could be “insufficient to stabilize the debt by mid-decade.”

It recommended a firm, evenly-paced strategy over five years from the coming fiscal year (beginning in October) to cut the deficit and stabilize debt.

The IMF said the plan should include spending cuts, entitlement reform — a reference to the long-term burden of promised health and retirement benefits to seniors — as well as revenue increases.

That appeared to match more the White House approach to the debt negotiations; Republicans have rejected any measures that would increase taxes to individuals or companies.

“Consideration could also be given to a national VAT (value added tax) or sales tax and carbon taxes, consistent with past advice by Fund staff,” the IMF said.

Republicans are blocking an increase in the debt ceiling in order to force a settlement on spending cuts to close the deficit gap.

In a press conference not long after the IMF released its report, Obama called on his opponents to raise the ceiling — saying it relates directly to the need to generate jobs for unemployed Americans.

“If the United States government for the first time cannot pay its bills, if it defaults, then the consequences for the US economy will be significant and unpredictable and that is not a good thing,” Obama said.

The IMF warned that the risk of negative events and trends worsening the US financial situation had risen. It cited:

– continued weakness in the housing market;

– a sudden increase in interest rates, hiking the amount the US has to pay for its borrowings. This could come if the government does not reach a deal in debt negotiations with Congress, or if the debt ceiling isn’t raised soon;

– new sharp rises in oil and other commodity prices; and

– new shocks from Europe’s debt crisis.

On the positive side for the economy, the Fund said, exports have recovered markedly and financial conditions have improved, helped by the US Federal Reserve’s policy to keep interest rates near zero, which has kept the dollar weak.

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