News, December 11th

3rd day of violence in Albania over police curfew killing

TIRANA, Albania — New street clashes between demonstrators and police erupted in Albania’s capital Friday, the third day of violent protests over a man’s fatal shooting by police enforcing a virus-linked curfew.

Defying a ban on public gatherings due to the pandemic, hundreds of people gathered in front of the main government building in Tirana and threw stones, flares and firecrackers at police guarding the site. Officers responded with tear gas and water cannon.

The protests, which have triggered political tension between the Socialist government and main opposition party, follow the death of Klodian Rasha in Tirana during curfew hours early Tuesday. Police say he ignored officers’ calls to stop, and ran away.

Earlier Friday a Tirana court decided that police officer Nevaldo Hajdaraj would stay under arrest while he is investigated for “homicide in excess of necessary self-defense.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama has apologized for what he called the “inexplicable and completely unreasonable” shooting, and his interior minister resigned Thursday.

But that failed to dampen the protests, which spread Friday to at least another three cities.

And the center-right main opposition Democratic Party demanded Rama’s resignation.

“The time of change has come and we cannot continue like this any more,” said party leader Lulzim Basha. “Together we shall get rid of Rama.”

The prime minister hit back on Friday, accusing the Democratic Party and opposition-rooted President Ilir Meta of inciting the violent protests.

“The opposition and the president are not only the inciters but also the orchestrators of the violence which is demeaning Klodian’s memory, allegedly in the name of justice but in fact for (their) political purposes,” Rama posted in Twitter.

Albania is due to hold parliamentary elections in April 2021.

During the first two days of violence police arrested 62 people, and a total 116 have been charged with holding an illegal protest during the pandemic, as well as with arson and public order breaches.

Authorities say 21 policemen and four protesters have been injured.

Police said they should not be blamed for the shooting.

“No one should compare the police with an individual who committed a legally punishable act,” a police statement said Friday.

United States Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim urged all sides to “exercise restraint.”

“Those in power have the responsibility to provide a full and transparent investigation into the incident,” she said. “Those seeking to be in power should demonstrate their ability to lead in a responsible manner, including by rejecting violence.”

A Long Struggle Ahead

THE big success of the Bharat bandh called by the farmers’ organisations on December 8 was a display of people’s support and sympathy for the cause of the farmers.

The spontaneous response to the bandh call in many places and the support extended to it by a wide range of organisations and sections of the society – trade unions, traders’ organisations, transport associations, teachers, students and women’s organisations – all indicate the isolation of the Modi government on this issue. It is also significant that almost all non-BJP opposition parties expressed support for the protest action. Particularly noteworthy was the stand taken by the ruling regional parties who were unwilling, so far, to come out categorically against any important policy measure of the BJP government at the centre. The TRS in Telangana worked actively to make the bandh a success. The YSRCP government in Andhra Pradesh closed all government offices, public transport and educational institutions till 1 pm, respecting the wishes of the farmers. In Odisha too, though the BJD did not support the bandh call, it expressed support for the farmers’ demands and government offices were shut.

Underlying this wide ranging support across the political spectrum is the class divide. The pro-corporate farm laws have created a conflict between the big bourgeoisie on the one side and the entire peasantry, including the rich peasants, on the other side. Even among the capitalist landlords, there is a division. This explains the practically unanimous support the farmers are getting from the regional parties.

The other important class aspect that has emerged is the growing convergence of interests of the peasantry and the working class. The naked pro-corporate stance of the Modi government was exemplified in the three farm bills and the three labour legislations which were adopted in close succession during the last session of parliament. Both the workers and the peasants are getting united to fight these twin onslaughts.

The Modi government brought these three farm laws, first as ordinances which were promulgated in June this year. Subsequently these ordinances were presented as bills in parliament in September and pushed through by-passing all parliamentary procedures. The government had made its intent clear when it promulgated the ordinances. For instance, the amendments to the Essential Commodities Act removing all agricultural commodities from the list of essential commodities was explained as “the freedom to produce, hold, remove, distribute and supply will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into agriculture sector”.

All the three farm laws taken together work to deregulate agricultural markets, centralise policy by taking away state government control over markets to facilitate the free and unregulated entry of corporate agri-business and big traders.

Right from the beginning, the farmers understood the threat posed by these ordinances. The movement against these three laws began in July itself. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee supported by the trade unions gave a call for jail bharo on August 5, in which lakhs of people participated in 600 districts across 25 states. In Punjab, the rail roko agitation began on October 1. The Delhi Chalo call by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha began on November 26, the day the central trade unions held the general strike.

Faced with the massive protest actions on the borders of Delhi, the central government began talks with the representatives of the kisan organisations. After three rounds of talks, it became clear that the government is not willing to repeal the three farm laws and the electricity bill.

Prime Minister Modi has accused the opposition of instigating the protests and misleading the farmers. He has declared that the laws of the past century are archaic and they cannot be used to build the present century.

The government is indicating that it will not rollback these pro-corporate measures. The class interests of the big bourgeoisie are being clearly expressed by the corporate media which is urging the government to stand firm and reject the farmers’ demands. The Times of India editorial of December 9 reflects this position. It states: “If the government compromises on MSP or the farm laws under pressure from the protestors, it would signal that any reform effort in India can be sabotaged by some interest group’s opposition and laying siege to the national capital”.

With the talks having failed, the united platform of farmers’ organisations had no other option but to continue the struggle. Rejecting the written proposals of the government, a decision to intensify the struggle has been taken.The magnificent unity that they have displayed must be strengthened. This is important as the government will try to divide the movement.

This vital struggle of the farmers must be backed up and strengthened by the active solidarity and support from all other sections of the working people. The working class movement has a special responsibility to not only support but to build a united struggle by bringing together the twin struggles against the farm laws and the labour laws.

Alarm as China discovers it has 20pct more males than females among youth

MOSCOW: China has almost 20 per cent more men than women among young people under the age of 20, reported Sputnik news agency, quoting the latest data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Friday.

According to the NBS’ latest data on China’s population structure, the country’s boys-to-girls gender ratio reached 119.1 per cent among those aged between 10-14 and 118.39 per cent among those aged between 15-19 by the end of 2019.

The gender imbalance among the age group of 20-24 stood at 114.61 per cent by the end of 2019, the latest data showed.

More than 40 years after China’s infamous “One Child Policy” was introduced in the early 1980s, the country’s gender imbalance continued to worsen in recent years. Because Chinese families traditionally favoured boys over girls, the “One Child Policy” pushed many families to selectively avoid having girls through sex-based abortions.

The growing gender imbalance has made it more and more difficult for young Chinese men to marry as they face steep competition for the limited number of available women. Chinese men from the southwestern Yunnan and Guangxi provinces reportedly began to pay for foreign brides from neighbouring countries, including Vietnam and Pakistan, in recent years.

As part of their efforts to address the gender imbalance and the country’s aging population, Chinese authorities began to relax their strident family planning policies in late 2013 by allowing some couples to have two children and expanded the “two-child policy” to the entire population by 2015.

However, the relaxation of family planning policies failed to boost birth rates in China in recent years, as young Chinese couples began to focus more on their personal development and became wary of having more children over concerns of the rising cost of raising them.

In recent weeks, a number of Chinese demographic experts called on the authorities to further ease family planning restrictions by allowing Chinese couples to have a third child. – Bernama

As US troops drawdown from Afghanistan, growing concern about what lies ahead

KABUL – The drawdown in Afghanistan is underway — after almost 20 years, bases are being closed, and troops are heading home.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, has suggested that just two large bases and several satellite ones will remain, for the 2,500 soldiers who stay.

But on the ground, the situation is getting worse: The Taliban is launching more attacks and taking more ground, and thousands have fled their homes. For these people, a peace deal seems a long way off, and many are losing faith that it will succeed.

The rise in violence is thought to be a tactic by the Taliban to gain leverage in negotiations. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said it puts the peace deal at risk, adding: “I made clear to them [the Taliban] that the violence levels can’t continue while these negotiations go on. It won’t work. And so, we’ve asked all of them to stand back and indeed stand down.”

The Afghan army has been trained by the U.S. to fight in its place, and conduct all ground missions and 96% of air missions themselves — but it’s not thought it can stand up to the Taliban alone.

Even after the drawdown, the U.S. will continue air support, funding and training — all in accordance with the deal they made with the Taliban — and about 6,500 other NATO troops remain.

But for America, this — the country’s longest war — is winding down.

The Afghan war has cost almost 2,500 American lives and the U.S. taxpayers $1 trillion with $138 billion of that has been spent on relief and reconstruction. Being on the ground, it’s hard to see where that money has gone.

Brazil greenlights emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines

Brazil’s Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) on Thursday (December 10) granted temporary authorization for the emergency use of vaccines against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In announcing the decision, the director of the agency, Alessandra Bastos Soares, said emergency authorization aims to speed up a nationwide immunization campaign.

“The authorization of emergency use is a mechanism that can facilitate the availability and use of vaccines against COVID-19, even if they have not been evaluated under the registration screening, as long as they meet the minimum requirements of safety, quality and efficacy,” she said.

Brazil has the world’s second-highest COVID-19 death toll, after the United States, and the third-largest outbreak, after the United States and India.

As of Wednesday, the country registered 6,728,452 cases of COVID-19 and 178,995 deaths from the disease.

COVID-19 shows ‘urgent need’ for solidarity, UN chief tells Nobel forum

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for global solidarity and greater international cooperation, and must be turned into an opportunity for fundamental change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a keynote address to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum on Friday.

The event was held the day after the UN World Food Programme (WFP) officially received the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its lifesaving work assisting millions of hungry people across the globe.

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown above all the urgent need for human solidarity”, the UN chief said in a video message for the virtual event. “We can only tackle shared threats through shared resolve.”

The Nobel discussion focused on multilateralism and global governance in the aftermath of the pandemic, which has affected practically every corner of the planet.

The ever-growing economic and social fallout means the world is facing the biggest global recession in 80 years, rising levels of extreme poverty, and looming famine.

The Secretary-General called for a “reset”.

“We cannot respond to this crisis by going back to what was, or withdrawing into national shells. We need more international cooperation and stronger international institutions,” he stated.

Nearly a year has passed since COVID-19 first emerged in China. More than 68 million cases have been reported globally, including some 1.5 million deaths, according to latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although countries are facing a common enemy, the Secretary-General said they have not mounted a joint response, and even competed against each other for essential supplies and frontline workers.

“We cannot let the same thing happen for access to new COVID-19 vaccines, which must be a global public good”, he stressed.

Mr. Guterres used the speech to reiterate policies he has pressed for throughout the crisis.

Just days after the pandemic was declared, the Secretary-General issued an appeal for a global ceasefire, urging warring parties to “silence the guns” and focus on fighting the virus.

“I am encouraged by the support this call has received – and by the positive response by governments to my call for peace in homes around the world and an end to violence against women and girls”, he said.

Looking beyond the pandemic, the UN chief saw other areas for global concern, and thus the need for greater global cooperation and governance.

Addressing the climate emergency, the Secretary-General spoke of humanity’s “suicidal war on nature”, but he also pointed to “signs of hope”, such as the growing coalition of people pushing for action. Meanwhile, more than 100 countries have committed to achieve carbon neutrality in the next three decades.

On Friday, the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) announced that they had reached agreement to raise their target for CO2 emissions cuts, to 55 per cent by 2030, up from 40 per cent, putting the EU on track to net-zero by 2050.

“Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050”, said Mr. Guterres. “I encourage the main emitters to lead the way by taking decisive decisions now.”

This year also marks the UN’s 75th anniversary, and Mr. Guterres has been engaging governments, civil society, thought leaders, and others, on how to “reinvigorate” multilateralism.

He called for countries to address the inequalities at the foundation of global power relations, in efforts towards achieving a more inclusive and fairer world.

“Multilateral cooperation should be firmly based on the universal values of community, solidarity, equality and humanity; recognizing the fundamental human rights of all and providing opportunities for all,” he said.

New Zealand confirms APEC host year priorities

WELLINGTON, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) — New Zealand has confirmed its APEC host year priorities with a focus on responding to the economic impacts of COVID-19, as its first APEC 2021 virtual meeting was concluded from Wellington on Friday.

The Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting included a symposium, which brought together global thinkers on issues important to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), an informal plenary meeting and an informal retreat. The meeting was attended by representatives of the 21 APEC member economies.

“At the Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting each year, the APEC economies discuss and prioritize all of the work that will take place throughout the following APEC year,” said Rebecca Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, in a statement.

“This week’s meeting has provided an opportunity for fresh discussions on the things that matter most to Asia-Pacific economies. New Zealand shared its host year priorities and there was broad agreement that much of the focus in the year ahead will be on COVID-19 and supporting the Asia-Pacific region’s economic response and recovery,” Sta Maria added.

“In the wake of the unprecedented health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19, it is clear that the immediate economic response to COVID-19 will dominate APEC discussions in 2021, but as we work to recover, we also need to focus on building back better,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who will chair APEC in 2021.

“There has never been a more important time for the region to join, work, and grow together – to share, rebuild, and recover APEC’s growth trajectory,” Ardern said, citing New Zealand’s theme for APEC 2021.

Economic activity in the APEC region is expected to contract in 2020, the first time in three decades.

Ardern urges APEC member economies to work together in the spirit of cooperation to address these challenges effectively.

Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s talk of ‘national reconciliation’ has caused a furore

Democratic polity in Pakistan is endangered once again as Prime Minister Imran Khan suddenly talks of the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), introduced by the last dictator-President Pervez Musharaf on 7 October 2007, granting amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, money laundering, murders and terrorism between 1 January 1986 and 12 October 1999 — the phase between two Martial Law stints in Pakistan.

Although Khan is apparently assertive that he would not apply ‘NRO’ for corrupt elements, meaning young Pakistanis, the rebuttal from the opposition, mainly leaders of Pakistan Democratic Movement, reflects a feeling of a bad omen. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, leading a rally from Gajjumatta to Data Darbar in Lahore, as part of PDM’s mobilisation drive at Minar-e-Pakistan, did smell a rat in PM’s talk about NRO.

Almost coincidentally, The Friday Times editor-in-chief Najam Shetty in his eagerly-awaited column recalled that in 2014, the veteran politician Javed Hashmi left the Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf, the present ruling party, divulging that “Imran Khan told him to get ready for a ‘soft coup’ by the military establishment in the manner of Bangladesh 2007 to cleanse politics from corruption and incompetence and set a stable and productive course for Pakistan”.

The model, he elaborated, “was based on an Interim Government headed by an ex-Supreme Court judge, selected and propped up by the Miltablishment (military establishment), who imposed a state of Emergency, witch-hunted the two mainstream parties of Hasina Wajid and Khaleda Zia for corruption and postponed the general elections.”

Khan staged a dharna at that time to besiege and overthrow the Nawaz Sharif government and replace it with a Miltablishment-engineered and selected one, headed by him. But that conspiracy failed because Sharif stood his ground and foiled the ‘soft coup’. The same Miltablishment succeeded in installing the cricketer-turned-politician on the hot seat in 2018 through ‘rigged elections’, the TFT editor wrote. He consistently repeats that the present premier is a ‘designated puppet’ of military-feudal clique that keeps breathing down the neck of whoever is at the head of regime in Islamabad.

One can’t forget the parting shot of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, who disqualified a thrice-elected premier Nawaz Sharif, from holding office as he didn’t declare a petty asset / income which he hadn’t received. Justice Khosa’s retirement package “included a passionate plea for a ‘grand national dialogue of all stakeholders, including the judiciary’, to pull Pakistan out of its recurring crises. It may again be noted that in 2007 the Bangladesh constitution had stipulated that the last retiring Chief Justice should head the Interim Government designated to hold elections, confirming the departing Pakistani Chief Justice’s plea to be quite self-serving”, added Shetty in his dauntless and bantering style..

The PTI-led government (read Miltablishment) is unnerved at the steadily build of PDM towards the seat of power. But a section of middle-of-the-road commentators is worried over the disturbing impatience of dominant segment of PDM seemingly eager for step-down by Khan before completion of his tenure.

Malik Muhammad Ashra, columnist in The Nation, wrote, “Under the given situation it would be advisable for the opposition parties represented in the PDM to revisit their course of action and allow the government to complete its tenure to end the vicious circle of fomenting political crisis. Let the people be the judge of its performance. That is the spirit of democracy. If the government does not perform well or fails to promote their well-being as promised by the ruling party, they would give their verdict with the ballot. While asking others to give respect to vote, they themselves must give it respect by accepting the result of the elections and wait for the judgment of the people in the next elections”.

Indeed, the Opposition is expected to behave cautiously as consolidation of the gains of democracy, ensuring rule of law and preserving sanctity of the constitution are expected from all who want democracy to blossom in a hostile situation since collective responsibility lies with both the ruling as well as the opposition parties. This political culture is not caressed by politicians in Pakistan and as a result the country remains a ‘victim of the self-inflicted tragedies that came about due to the political instability triggered by the irresponsible behaviour of the political forces’.

It has almost become visceral for the parties losing elections to declare them rigged. Instead of seeking redress of their complaints from respective legal forums, they have invariably resorted to launching campaigns to bring down the incumbent government which have even led to wrapping up the system by military dictators, pushing the country further away from the envisioned democratic path.

Report shows marked decline in trade restrictions by WTO members amidst COVID-19 pandemic

The Director-General’s latest annual overview of trade-related developments shows a marked slowdown in the number of trade-restrictive and trade-facilitating measures adopted by WTO members related to goods trade over the past year. The report, presented at a 11 December meeting of the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB), notes the decrease observed in regular measures between mid-October 2019 and mid-October 2020 was mainly the result of the sharp decline in overall global trade since the COVID-19 outbreak. The document at the same time provides information about the numerous trade-facilitating and support measures introduced by WTO economies in response to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in order to ensure a solid economic recovery.

In presenting the report to members, Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah said: “I believe that the regular monitoring of support measures introduced in the context of the pandemic will be important for members and will enable them to track the evolution and effects of such measures as the world exits the health crisis and enters a recovery period.

“There is no doubt in my mind that keeping international trade and investment flows open will be critical to rebuild economies, businesses and livelihoods around the world as we prepare for a sustainable exit from the pandemic. A strong recovery will require determined leadership and coordination by WTO members. A collective commitment to transparency will be at the core of this effort and to strengthening the multilateral trading system,” he added.

The report reflects the impact the global health crisis has had on trade and trade policy more fully than the previous report issued in July 2020, which captured only the very early effects of the pandemic. Although world trade was slowing before the COVID-19 outbreak, merchandise exports in nominal USD terms were down 21 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year, while commercial services exports were down 30 per cent.

The report notes that WTO members and observers introduced the lowest number of “regular” trade-related measures since 2012 – that is, those unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trade coverage of import-facilitating measures over the past year stood at USD 731.3 billion (up from USD 544.7 billion in the previous period) while that of import-restrictive measures came in at USD 440.9 billion (down from USD 746.9 billion). This was likely a result of the sharp decline in overall global trade flows, governments shifting attention towards fighting the pandemic, relative easing of bilateral trade tensions that had elevated the trade coverage of import restrictions in earlier reporting periods, and a general commitment to keep trade flowing.

A significant amount of global trade was affected by trade measures directly linked to the pandemic. COVID-19 related trade-facilitating measures implemented since the beginning of the pandemic covered an estimated USD 227 billion of goods trade, while COVID-19 trade-restrictive measures covered trade worth USD 180 billion. Of the 335 COVID-19 trade and trade-related goods measures recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic, 58 per cent were of a trade-facilitating nature and 42 per cent were trade restrictive.

Around 39 per cent of restrictive measures on goods adopted by WTO members and observers in the immediate wake of the pandemic were repealed by mid-October 2020. Most of the 124 COVID-19 related measures adopted by WTO members in the heavily impacted services sector appeared to be trade facilitating.

Over 1,000 support measures in direct response to the pandemic were put in place up to mid-October and were collectively worth several trillion US dollars. The report indicates that the number and variety of support measures implemented in response to the economic and social turmoil caused by COVID-19 is greater than that witnessed during the 2008-09 global financial crisis. These emergency support measures are central to governments’ strategies to address the pandemic-induced economic downturn, appear to be temporary in nature, and are important in preparing the ground for a sustainable recovery in which trade can play an important role.

WTO Secretariat estimates indicate that by the end of 2019 the cumulative trade coverage of import restrictions on goods implemented by WTO members and observers since 2009 and still in force affected 8.7 per cent of world imports (USD 1.6 trillion out of a total USD 18.9 trillion). WTO estimates for 2020 suggest that the stockpile of import restrictions continues to grow and that the roll-back of restrictions is minimal.

The report also shows a significant increase in trade remedy initiations during the review period, confirming that these measures remain an important trade policy tool for WTO members.

It also shows that members continued to use meetings of WTO councils and committees to address trade concerns. Although fewer meetings took place during the review period as a result of the pandemic, several of these concerns had been raised in the past, appearing to indicate persistent and unresolved issues.

In addition, many intellectual property (IP) measures were introduced during the review period aimed at facilitating access to COVID-19-related health technologies. WTO members continued to fine-tune their domestic IP frameworks, including relaxing procedural requirements and extending deadlines for administrative IP matters, in response to the pandemic. Overall, some 60 COVID-19 related IP measures were introduced during the review period.

Senate Passes $740 Billion NDAA in Veto-Proof Majority

On Friday, the Senate passed the $740 billion 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a veto-proof majority. The vote came after Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to delay the massive spending bill over an amendment that seeks to block troops drawdowns from Afghanistan.

The final tally for the vote was 84 to 13, well over the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. President Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA for a few reasons, mainly because it does not include an amendment to repeal Section 230, a law that gives tech platforms immunity from liability over the content published by third party users.

The Afghanistan amendment on the bill would block funds to bring troops home from Afghanistan until the Pentagon, State Department, and the DNI submit a report to Congress about how the drawdown would affect US security.

The assessment would be required as soon as the NDAA becomes law. Assessments would also be required when troop numbers go below 4,000, and again at 2,000. The Trump administration is currently carrying out a plan to bring numbers down to 2,500 by January 15th.

Senator Paul warned the amendment would set “a very dangerous precedent for limiting a President’s power to end war.”

The NDAA also includes an amendment to block a planned troop drawdown from Germany. The Trump administration ordered the Pentagon to take about 12,000 troops out of Germany of the approximately 34,500 stationed there.

The NDAA amendment would not allow the Pentagon to bring troops out of Germany until 120 days after the secretary of defense submitted an analysis to Congress on how the drawdown would impact US national security.

On Tuesday, the NDAA passed through the House, also with a veto-proof majority. If President Trump goes ahead with the veto, both chambers will likely override it unless some Republicans change their votes to align with the president.

Stocks extend losses as virus aid languishes in Congress

BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets were mostly lower Friday after U.S. unemployment claims rose in a sign of worsening economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic while Congress is deadlocked over possible new aid.

London, Tokyo and Shanghai retreated while Hong Kong and Seoul gained. U.S. stock futures also were lower.

Investors have been encouraged by progress in developing vaccines. But optimism has been dented by rising infection numbers in the United States and some other markets, which prompted renewed curbs on business.

Overnight, Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index slipped 0.1% after the government reported more people than expected applied for unemployment last week. The index hit an all-time high on Tuesday.

“While the stimulus deadlock is proving to be the ultimate rally capper, it was the gnarliest of Main Street concerns that hurt sentiment,” said Stephen Innes of Axi in a report.

In early trading, the FTSE 100 in London declined 0.4% to 6,575.84 and the DAX in Frankfurt was off 0.4% at 13,238.20. The CAC 40 in Paris retreated 0.6% to 5,518.95.

On Wall Street, the future for the S&P 500 was down 0.4% and that for the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 0.3%.

On Thursday, industrial and communications stocks led the S&P 500’s decline. The Dow dropped 0.2%. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.5%.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.8% to 3,347.19 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shed 0.4% to 26,652.52. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong advanced 0.4% to 26,505.87.

The Kospi in Seoul advanced 0.9% to 2,770.06 while Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 was off 0.6% at 6,642.60.

India’s Sensex was down less than 0.1% at 45,927.34. New Zealand and Singapore advanced while Jakarta declined.

U.S. stocks slipped after the government reported Thursday that 835,000 people applied for unemployment last month, the highest level since September.

That meant the total number of people receiving jobless benefits rose for the first time in three months, to 5.8 million from 5.5 million. Weekly jobless claims pre-pandemic usually were about 225,000.

On Thursday, a proposed $908 billion aid deal all but collapsed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republican senators won’t support giving $160 billion to state and local governments. Republicans are pressing for a measure that would shield companies from potential coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The package would extend unemployment benefits that are due to expire Dec. 26. Without it, more than 9 million people would lose benefits, which would undercut consumer spending, the main engine of the U.S. economy.

Also Thursday, the European Central Bank announced another 500 billion euros ($600 billion) in stimulus.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 25 cents to $47.03 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.26 to $46.78 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 26 cents to $50.51 per barrel in London. It advanced $1.39 the previous session to $50.25 per barrel.

The dollar fell to 104.10 Japanese yen from 104.23 yen. The euro declined to $1.2130 from $1.2134.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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