Italy’s budget dispute

ROME: Premier Romano Prodi met on Saturday with government allies to rally support for the 2007 budget, which is awaiting parliamentary approval in what is seen as a crucial vote. Prodi called the meeting of Cabinet ministers, party leaders and parliament whips before the parliamentary vote, which must be held by the end of the year. The gathering took place in a Rome villa. The budget has come under criticism from several fronts, including unions, the country’s industrialists’ association and even some Prodi allies. — AP

FDIs dip in S Korea

SEOUL: Foreign direct investment (FDI) in South Korea has plunged in the first nine months of this year amid a worsening business climate and falling growth potential. Just $790 million flowed in for the nine months to September, just a fourth of the $3.42 billion invested during the same period last year. South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, has attracted less and less foreign direct investment with $9.25 billion in 2004 and $4.34 billion in 2005. — AFP

Malaysia, US FTA row

KUALA LUMPUR: A coalition of opposition political parties and civil groups is planning to hold street protests on Monday when Malaysia and the US resume free-trade agreement talks. Some 500 demonstrators, who say the deal will harm Malaysia’s economic interests, are expected to march along a main Kuala Lumpur thoroughfare to the talks venue at a city hotel. “We are unhappy with the way the talks are being conducted. The Malaysian government has not been transparent,” said Xavier Jayakumar, chairperson of the Coalition Against Malaysia-US FTA. — AFP

European energy

OSLO: Faced with rising demand for energy and keen to reduce their dependency on Russian gas supplies, European countries are greedily eyeing Norway’s natural gas, available to the continent through a burgeoning web of pipelines. In last six years, Norway has doubled its gas exports to 90 billion cubic metres, making it the second biggest supplier to the EU with a 16 per cent share. — AFP

More foreign banks

MOSCOW: Foreign banks are streaming into Russia, undeterred by risk and government pressure on foreign investors in the energy sector. “You have to take some risks. That’s what banking’s about,” said Vincent Falcoz, corporate secretary of Rusfinance, a subsidiary of France’s Societe Generale that specialises in consumer credit. Societe Generale is just one of a series of foreign banks that have unveiled ambitious plans in Russia. — AFP

EU tames inflation

BRUSSELS: Eurozone data to be released this week should reveal that inflation in the 12-member zone is running well below the European Central Bank’s two per cent ceiling and that business and consumer confidence is on the rise. The reports are also likely to show slight declines in both unemployment and retail sales. Eurozone inflation is forecast to have remained at 1.7 per cent in October, reflecting lower oil prices. — AFP

Bringing electricity

BHOJPUR: Remote mountainous district Bhojpur will be connected to the national electricity grid within two years at a cost of Rs 40.20 million for the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA). The Ministry of Water Sources and NEA are working on a war footing scale to connect the district in the national grid, said Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, state minister for water resources, who laid a foundation stone to connect Bhojpur to the national electricity grid on Friday. Being a remote part of the country, this district has been deprived of electricity service for many years. — RSS

Mandi to go online

New Delhi: Azadpur Mandi, one of the largest fruit and vegetable wholesale markets in Asia, is soon to go online to modernise its working and bring in greater transparency in trade transactions. Birlasoft, the IT division of the $1.2 billion C K Birla Group, has completed the computerisation of market whose operations are spread over an area of 90 acres in the capital’s northern and southern regions. — HNS

Indonesia, China ties

JAKARTA: Indonesia aims to double its trade with China to reach $30 billion by 2010, trade minister Marie Elka Pangestu said. “In 2005, our trade volume stood at $15 billion and in line with the instruction of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, we aim to increase the trade volume of $30 billion by 2010,” Pangestu said. Pangestu was speaking in Guilin, China, where she is accompanying the president on a visit there. — AFP

Nationalisation drive

LA PAZ: President Evo Morales was set to complete his ambitious oil and gas nationalization plan on Saturday with the last-minute signing of contracts allowing Petrobras, Repsol YPF and other international companies to continue operating in Bolivia under state control. Bolivian government had completed months-long talks with the Brazilian state energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA. — AP