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Japan pledges loans to Iraq amid Iran squeeze
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 24, 2012

Japan is to offer $530 million in loans to Iraq, in part to help rebuild oil refineries, an official said Friday, as Tokyo seeks to diversify fuel supplies after the tightening of sanctions on Iran.

Loans totalling 42.5 billion yen have been pledged to Baghdad to aid the war-ravaged country with four infrastructure projects, including a refinery in the southern city of Basra and another in the northern city of Baiji, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

A hospital and telecommunications system will also benefit.

"The total value of the projects will amount to 160 billion yen and the main contractors will be Japanese companies," said the official in charge of Middle East issues.

The loans come as Washington continues to press Tokyo to decrease its dependence on Iranian oil, amid a growing Western-led sanctions campaign targeting Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

The United States is trying to ramp up pressure over the programme, which Tehran insists is peaceful, threatening to cut off financial institutions that deal with the country's central bank, which would squeeze Iran's vital oil export business.

Japan last month initially appeared willing to fall into line with US demands to reduce Iranian oil imports, only to backtrack and insist the issue needed further study.

Iranian crude now makes up around a tenth of resource-poor Japan's oil imports, while crude from Iraq accounts for about three percent.

Japan has eagerly sought to strengthen its ties with Iraq by offering reconstruction support in the aftermath of the conflict there. The world's third-largest economy relies heavily on the Middle East for its oil needs.

Tokyo has been forced to boost its imports of fossil fuels over the last 12 months to make up for the energy shortfall caused by the shuttering of all but two of the country's nuclear reactors in the wake of the crisis at Fukushima.

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Sudan foreign minister to hold talks in Beijing
Beijing (AFP) Feb 24, 2012 - Sudan's foreign minister is to make a two-day visit to Beijing, China said Friday, as it seeks to resolve a crisis in relations between Khartoum and South Sudan, a major oil supplier.

South Sudan split from the north last year, but while it has most of the oil, Khartoum controls the pipeline and has access to the sea, sparking a furious argument and fears of renewed conflict.

Last month, Juba vowed to halt oil production of around 350,000 barrels per day until Sudan repaid 2.4 million barrels of southern crude it confiscated from pipelines running through the north to its Red Sea port.

"Oil is the common economic life-line of both (Sudan and South Sudan)," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing in Beijing as he announced the visit of Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti.

"At the moment the positions of the two countries in this regard are different, but China always encourages them to resolve this issue through negotiation."

South Sudan said this week it had expelled the Chinese head of the country's largest oil firm Petrodar on charges of colluding with Khartoum to "steal" millions of barrels of its oil.

Before the shutdown, China relied on South Sudan for nearly five percent of its oil.


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New study shows no evidence of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing
Vancouver, Canada (SPX) Feb 24, 2012
Hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas has no direct connection to reports of groundwater contamination, based on evidence reviewed in a study released Thursday by the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. The study, released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, British Columbia, foun ... read more

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