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Japanese politicians land on China-claimed island: reports

Russia, Finland sign Nord Stream agreement
Moscow (AFP) Dec 10, 2010 - Russia vowed Friday to keep Finland fully informed about the environmental impact from the controversial Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to Europe it is currently building under the Baltic Sea. Moscow's commitment was spelled out in a memorandum of understanding signed by Russia's natural resources minister and the Finnish environment minister. "The parties agreed to submit current environmental data obtained from the ecological monitoring programme (that accompanies) the construction of the Russian and Finnish sectors of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

The agreement was inked in Saint Petersburg on the sidelines of talks between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Finnish counterpart Mari Kiviniemi. The data exchange agreement will expire once the section is completed in December 2012, the Russian ministry said. Nord Stream was granted a permit in February to construct the gas pipeline in Finland's waters. The project already has approval from every other country through which the pipeline will pass.

But the project has sparked heated protests from environmentalists who worry about the impact of both construction and any potential accidents. Finnish and Estonian environmental groups took their case to Finland's Supreme Administrative Court in October after a lower court refused to hear their complaint. The 7.4-billion-euro (10.1-billion-dollar) project to build the 1,220-kilometre (760-mile) pipeline to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany is led by Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom in partnership with Germany's E.On Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 11, 2010
Two Japanese politicians briefly set foot on one of the islands at the centre of a bitter territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo, local media reported on Saturday.

Hitoshi Nakama and Yoichi Minosoko, members of the municipal assembly of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, were on Minami Kojima in the East China Sea for around 40 minutes early Friday, Jiji Press and Kyodo News said.

Television footage showed Nakama, 61, and Minosoko, 29, swimming from their fishing boat in life vests to reach the island.

Police and Japan's coastguard are set to question both men on suspicion of violating a law by entering an off-limits area surrounding the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, Kyodo said.

Asked why they went to the hotspot, Nakama and Minosoko were quoted by Jiji Press as saying they felt they needed to do it as assemblymen in Ishigaki, the district supervising the islands.

Police and coastguard officials declined to confirm the reports.

Both Tokyo and Beijing claim the potentially resource-rich islands along with their surrounding waters, but Japan has traditionally had more of a presence in the area and administers the area.

A tense territorial row broke out in September after Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain after a collision in the area between his boat and Japanese coastguard ships.

He was eventually freed but the dispute brought ties between the Asian neighbours to their lowest point in years.

The arrest sparked serious protests from China, which cut or dramatically reduced political, cultural and economic exchanges with Japan. The two have since worked to get their relationship back on an even keel, but the issue continues to stir nationalist feelings in both countries.

earlier related report
Oil prices rise on Chinese data, before OPEC meet
London (AFP) Dec 10, 2010 - Oil prices rose on Friday following strong Chinese import data and on the eve of a meeting of OPEC to set the cartel's crude output levels, traders said.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in January climbed 41 cents to 91.40 dollars a barrel in London trade.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for January, gained 51 cents to 88.88 dollars a barrel.

China said Friday that exports and imports hit record highs in November, which analysts said would ramp up pressure on Beijing for further interest rate hikes and a stronger currency.

"China's crude oil imports soared in November by 22 percent, year-on-year, to 20.9 million tons (5.09 million barrels a day)," noted analysts at Commerzbank.

"China thus remains the main driver of global oil demand."

Oil demand and prices are meanwhile showing a year-end spurt, pushed by global growth and a surprising pick-up in advanced economies, but these pressures should ease in the medium term, the IEA said on Friday.

Strong growth in Asia remains the main driver of new demand for oil, but the International Energy Agency warned that inflation in China could unwind with a "hard landing".

Diesel was the key factor in the growth of demand, partly owing to the use of small generators and harvesting equipment in China. Another factor was rising demand for gasoline (petrol) for US motorists.

Elsewhere on Friday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries raised its forecast for oil demand in 2010 because of global economic recovery and cold weather in Europe, a day before OPEC ministers meet on production levels.

OPEC, which pumps about 35 percent of world oil, meets in the Ecuadoran capital on Saturday with the goal of keeping quotas as they are, despite a recent rise in the price of oil and a forecast increase in demand.

The meeting will be the last before Ecuador hands OPEC's rotating presidency to Iran for 2011 -- the first time in 36 years the Islamic republic will be the temporary leader of the cartel.

Stimulated by a weak US dollar and a cold snap in Europe and parts of the United States, the price of a barrel of crude recently broke the psychologically important 90-dollar barrier for the first time since October 2008.

The 12-member organization has maintained its official production target unchanged at 24.8 million barrels a day since January 1, 2009, when it agreed to a hefty cut aimed at boosting oil prices that had tumbled to about 30 dollars because of the financial crisis.

Most members consider a price of between 75 and 85 dollars a barrel to be adequate, though hard-line nations like Venezuela and Libya would like to see prices rise to 100 dollars or more to compensate for the weak dollar.

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