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Virus jitters keep dollar aloft

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Spiking coronavirus cases kept the dollar supported in Asia on Thursday and it clawed back a little of a drop which had followed insistence from Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell that he isn’t in a hurry to withdraw policy support.

The dollar was up about half a percent on the New Zealand dollar by midday in Tokyo, up about 0.3% on the Australian dollar and British pound and up roughly 0.1% against the euro.

Cities from Seoul to Sydney are under lockdown as the infectious Delta variant sweeps the globe. Infection rates are rising in the United States, Singapore reported its sharpest jump in cases in 10 months on Thursday and Indonesia is living its government’s worst-case COVID scenario.

“Growth momentum, business confidence and investor sentiment can be further crippled if lockdowns and restrictions are prolonged,” analysts at Maybank in Singapore said in a note.

Mixed economic data in China – showing a largely expected growth slowdown, but signs of more resilient domestic demand – also did little to improve the mood.

The safe-haven yen rose broadly, and was last up 0.1% at 109.86 per dollar and close to testing multi-month peaks at 129.91 per euro. The Aussie fell to $0.7453 while the kiwi dipped below 70 cents to $0.6998. [AUD/]

“The market is still on an uncertain path,” said National Australia Bank strategist Rodrigo Catril.

“The big experiment is really the full reopening in the UK – if that could be successful, we think it’s going to be a huge factor in terms of confidence and pricing a broader and sustained recovery of the global economy.”

That could lead to a softer dollar as economies from Japan to Europe catch up with the robust rebound in the U.S., he said.

England plans to lift almost all COVID-related restrictions on Monday, even as cases climb. Sterling reflected some nerves about the prospect of failure, and fell below its 20-day moving average to $1.3829.

POWELL PUSH

Powell returns to Capitol Hill later on Thursday for further testimony before Congress, following remarks that toppled the dollar from a three-month high on the euro on Wednesday.

He had soothed rate hike fears by saying high inflation seemed linked to the U.S. economy’s reopening, that it would be a mistake to act prematurely and that economic conditions for tapering bond buying was “still a ways off”.

The subsequent support for the dollar, which still sits above its 20- and 200-day moving averages against a basket of six major currencies suggests investors were not entirely convinced. The dollar index was last steady at 92.434.

“Was anyone really expecting anything other than a dovish Powell,” OCBC Bank analysts Terence Wu and Frances Cheung asked in a note.

“No,” they said. “He didn’t provide new information in his comments, but gave the excuse to profit-take on the dollar … we view the dip as part of the volatility and grind higher for the greenback.”

Indeed the even sharp contrast in tone between Powell and other central banks that are charting far faster courses away from super-easy policy hasn’t broken recent currency ranges.

In New Zealand, for example, the central bank said on Wednesday it would end its bond purchase programme next week, but the resultant jump in the kiwi only took it to a one-week high.

The Aussie dollar likewise shrugged off figures showing unemployment dropped to levels last seen in the midst of a mining boom a decade ago – with traders nervous after reports Melbourne is to join Sydney under lockdown.

The Canadian dollar also weakened on Thursday – with help from softening oil prices – even though the Bank of Canada further tapered its policy support on Wednesday.

“The dynamics of different currencies seem to be being overwhelmed by the dollar dynamic,” said NAB’s Catril, something he thinks can persist for some time.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kim Coghill)

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Two years of Kashmir unrest, political void and a sinking economy – Al Jazeera English

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Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Two years after the Modi administration stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy, political activity in the disputed region is in a deep freeze, businesses are struggling, while people’s rights are being suppressed through stringent laws.

On this day two years ago, India’s Hindu-nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped the region’s special status guaranteed by India’s constitution decades ago and turned the country’s only Muslim-majority state into a federally controlled territory.

The move included the removal of a ban on permanent settlement of non-Kashmiris in the region, a step that locals fear is aimed at bringing demographic changes in the region.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government claimed the changes would result in a better development of the region and boost its economy.

But experts and political analysts say the situation has only deteriorated in the last two years.

Political void

The last state elections in Indian-administered Kashmir were held in 2015, when a regional pro-India party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), allied with the BJP to form the government.

The region has a group of political parties considered loyal to New Delhi. They contest regional and national elections, which are boycotted by the region’s separatist groups, who demand either a merger with neighbouring Pakistan or an independent nation.

In 2018, the BJP withdrew its support to the PDP, toppling the government and putting the state under the direct rule of New Delhi.

The next year, as the Modi government scrapped Articles 370 and 35A which granted Indian-administered Kashmir its autonomy, dozens of politicians from the region, including three former chief ministers belonging to pro-India parties, were arrested. Some of them continue to be in jails.

Meanwhile, the region was split into two federally controlled territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – and no legislative elections have been announced so far.

Between November to December last year, multi-phase local elections were held in the region to elect 280 district development councillors. Analysts said the polls were an attempt by New Delhi to show “normalcy” in the disputed Himalayan region, also claimed by Pakistan.

While the elected members of the district development councils have no powers to legislate or amend laws, many of them have been since confined to hotel rooms in different places and barred from visiting their constituencies due to “security threats”.

Many elected councillors, angry over the government’s treatment, have threatened to resign.

The region’s pro-India politicians say the government’s controversial decisions “have damaged the very bond of our relationship with the union of India”.

“There is no political space left for anyone,” Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a former minister and four-time legislator from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), told Al Jazeera.

Tarigami is convener and spokesman of the People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a coalition of six parties demanding the restoration of the region’s autonomy and statehood.

He said a fallout of the BJP government’s 2019 decision has been “a process of throttling  of democracy and democratic rights, which have resulted in a forced silence” in the region.

“Unconscionable suppression of civil and democratic rights continues unabated. Indiscriminate arrests and harassment of all sections of our people, including government employees, on different pretexts continues.”

There are reports that the federal government has made future elections subservient to what is called delimitation, which means redrawing the region’s assembly constituencies. Residents fear the BJP aims to increase seats in the southern Jammu area of the region in order to reduce the representation of the Kashmir valley in the state assembly.

Suppression of civil rights

A 78-page report, titled Two Years of Lockdown: Human rights in Jammu and Kashmir, released by an Indian civil society group, Human Rights Forum Jammu and Kashmir, on Wednesday concluded that the security situation in the Himalayan region has worsened.

The report referred to rising cases of human rights violations including the crackdown on dissent, arrest of activists and use of draconian laws against journalists for doing their jobs.

“Indeed, new methods that endanger civilian security, political freedoms, government service, and media independence have been added. There appears to be little accountability for violations by the union government and security forces,” it said.

Indian security forces at the site of a rebel attack in Srinagar [File: Farooq Khan/EPA]

The report said close to 1,000 people are still in prison, including minors and elected legislators, some under stringent laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.

Data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau shows 921 cases were registered in the region between 2014-2019, 500 of which were recorded in 2018 and 2019.

Lawyer and activist Habeel Iqbal told Al Jazeera that in the last two years, UAPA has been used in Indian-administered Kashmir as a “tool for tightening control over its population”.

“Apparently, it is done in the name of security concerns but the real motive seems to be political. People are detained for months without trial and the courts are being used to legitimise the police excesses and arbitrariness,” he said.

Soon after its 2019 decision, the BJP government closed down six semi-autonomous commissions in the region, including the State Human Rights Commission, Commission for Protection and Women and Child Rights, and Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

At the time of its closure, the region’s rights panel had at least 8,000 pending cases of torture , enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and rapes. Thousands of families have been left without any hope for justice due to the closures.

Nearly a year after these commissions were shut, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided the offices and residences of two top rights activists in the region: Parveena Ahanger, the head of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, and Khurram Parvez, a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).

After the raids, human rights activism in the region has been completely throttled.

JKCCS chairman Parvez Imroz told Al Jazeera that in the past two years, rights violations by India’s security forces have become more brazen in the restive region.

“[…] Because along with political impunity, they now enjoy moral impunity,” he said, adding that the “neutralisation of civil society and human rights groups” is against the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Depriving people of their daily rights, using threats and intimidation to silence people … Whatever little agitation and protest victims used to have that space has been choked.”

A Kashmiri villager stands on the debris of a house destroyed in a gunfight in Pulwama, Indian-administered Kashmir [File: Dar Yasin/AP]

No end to violence

One of the arguments the BJP government had made while enforcing its 2019 decision was that the move will reduce the armed rebellion against the Indian rule in the region, which started more than 30 years ago.

But the records tell another story.

A local official, on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that in the first seven months of 2021, at least 80 local youths have joined the rebellion. In 2020, 163 had joined, he said.

Last month, at least 31 armed rebels were killed in more than a dozen gun battles, with the trend showing there is no end to violence in the region.

Civilian fatalities have also risen. While 32 civilians were killed during protests or security operations last year, at least 19 civilians lost their lives in the first six months of 2021, report by a local civil society group says.

Yashwant Sinha, the former federal minister and member of Human Rights Forum Jammu and Kashmir, told Al Jazeera there is a lot of resentment among people because of what happened two years ago.

“The trust deficit has deepened. It is a sullen silence,” he said after his visit to the region last week.

“To tell you the truth, normalcy has not returned to the Kashmir valley. The fact that there is no stone-throwing in the streets and there are no demonstrations does not mean normalcy has returned.”

Fears of dispossession

After it tightened its grip over the region militarily, the federal government also introduced a series of policy decisions and abolished many historic land laws, which protected the land rights of the region’s natives for decades.

New Delhi on Tuesday released a 76-page document, Jammu and Kashmir: Marching to a new tune, highlighting the “achievements” of the government since August 5, 2019.

In the document, the government said it has issued four million domicile certificates issued to people to settle in Indian-administered Kashmir, including 55,931 certificates given to Hindu and Sikh refugees who came to the region in 1947 when the subcontinent was partitioned to form India and Pakistan.

The document further said that nearly 3,000 similar certificates were issued to members of the marginalised Valmiki community, who work as sanitation workers, and to hundreds of Gurkhas brought to Kashmir from Nepal. Until August 5, 2019, these individuals were not recognised as citizens of the erstwhile state.

However, the document is silent on the number of domicile certificates given to people from other Indian states, a silence that is heightening anxiety in the Muslim-majority region about New Delhi trying to alter its demography.

Besides, New Delhi has also thrown open other gates for the outsiders to settle in the region. Jobs earlier reserved for permanent residents of the region are now open to domicile certificate holders.

Moreover, in another disturbing trend, at least 11 government employees have been terminated from their jobs for “being a threat to the state”.

Local political analyst Sheikh Showkat Hussain told Al Jazeera the moves have created a fear of dispossession and loss of rights over jobs and land

“All the apprehensions people had about the status quo have proved true,” he said.

“They were apprehensive that if the status quo continues, they will be outnumbered by those who come from Indian states and they will be dispossessed of their land and identity. All of this has come true.”

Politician Tarigami said people of the region are “being ripped apart into smaller units, ripped off their jobs and rights over the natural resources that are theirs”.

Sinking economy

Perhaps the worst impact of the 2019 decision has been on the region’s economy, which traders and industrialists say has collapsed, with thousands of job losses and rising unemployment.

Sheikh Ashiq, the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Al Jazeera that  the region’s economy has suffered losses worth $7bn in two years of consecutive lockdowns, first due to the scrapping of the special status and later due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When we were hoping to revive the trade after the 2019 lockdown, COVID-19 hit the region. We conveyed to the government the need for comprehensive support to revive the businesses,” Ashiq told Al Jazeera.

Ashiq said at least 500,000 Kashmiris have lost their jobs since 2019, including nearly 60,000 employed in the flagship tourism and horticulture sectors.

With the existing economy of the region on the verge of collapse, local businesses are not hopeful of new investments in the region.

“The businesses who have already invested their blood and money should be saved first,” said Ashiq.

Siddiq Wahid, the former vice-chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology in the region, said New Delhi’s decisions have put even the BJP government “in a difficult position” by creating more trouble spots.

“It has worsened for Delhi,” he told Al Jazeera. “Now, it (government) has four trouble spots to control. The Jammu area feels economically deprived due to land rights that have been taken away from them. Ladakh is another spot as they are not happy with New Delhi because they were promised a union territory with powers of local authority which has not happened.”

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Indonesian economy grows for first time in five quarters – FRANCE 24

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Issued on: 05/08/2021 – 09:24

Jakarta (AFP)

Indonesia’s economy bounced back in the second quarter to post its first growth in more than a year, but analysts warned the recovery might be short-lived as Covid-19 surges.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy grew by 7.07 percent in the April-to-June quarter compared with the same period last year, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said Thursday.

The figure is higher than a projection by the Central Bank of Indonesia, which predicted growth of 6.75 percent.

The expansion, the first positive figure in five quarters, was driven by a pick-up in exports and imports as Indonesia’s trading partners also saw greater activity.

“For the economy to keep growing, the key is how we manage the health sector, comply with health protocols and vaccinate people to reach herd immunity,” BPS head Margo Yuwono told a press conference.

Domestic consumption also contributed to the comeback with motorcycle and car sales jumping 2.5 and 7.5 percent respectively compared with the first quarter.

Greater business activity and more public mobility as a result of pandemic restrictions being relaxed also contributed to the recovery, Yuwono added.

But analysts believe Indonesia will struggle to record continued growth as a virus surge triggered by the Delta variant wracks the country.

“Indonesia’s economy is struggling badly, with Q2 GDP data showing that the recovery lost some momentum even before the latest surge in virus cases,” Gareth Leather, a senior Asia economist for Capital Economics, said in a statement.

The archipelago has reported more than 3.5 million infections and over 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 though official figures are widely believed to be an underestimate.

It has never implemented a full lockdown but introduced restrictions in early July limiting travel and non-essential business activity.

Last year the country’s economy shrunk 2.07 percent as it entered its first recession since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The central bank recently cut its 2021 GDP growth forecast to between 3.5 percent and 4.3 percent.

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Chilean Circular Economy Pioneer Poised for Expansion – Triple Pundit

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Pay for the product, not the packaging. Start filling bottles, not landfills. These are just a few of the value propositions Algramo, a Chile-based company, has introduce in recent years. In business for a decade, Algramo is a circular economy game-changer … and still very much on the rise.

Algramo provides a self-service, cashless way to buy big brand cleaning products in a more sustainable way. Algramo stations – which are smart dispensing systems, sort of like vending machines – are set up at retail locations, including Walmart, throughout Chile. The process is simple: users download an app, charge their account, bring their reusable bottle to an Algramo dispenser and then select how much of the cleaning product they wish to buy.

Having just secured $8.5 million in funding from Mexico’s Dalus Capital, with participation from Angel Ventures, FEMSA Ventures, Volta Ventures, Impact Assets, University Venture Fund, Century Oak Capital and Closed Loop Partners’ Ventures Group, Algramo says it will launch pilot stations around the world.

Projects are already underway with retailers and distributors in Mexico, Jakarta, London and in New York locations to set up new stations. Algramo’s supply chain management initiative requires careful handling to promote its sustainable, bulk-refilling solution while also not upending existing supplier-retailer relationships.

Algramo’s initiative and distribution model captured the attention – early on – of some consumer packaged goods (CPG) giants, like Unilever, Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive. As reported in a recent TechCrunch article, Algramo, in its early stages, had to make the business case to the big retailers and consumer grands of the world to provide bulk products in refillable containers to help consumers, the planet and these companies’ bottom lines. Recently, these large corporations have started to listen and respond at a local level – and have partnered with other companies to launch similar services in the process.

In the interview with Techcrunch, Algramo CEO José Manuel Moller said, “…we’re integrating into their supply chains, working with the retailers and the brand[s] so they don’t disrupt existing relationships. And actually, ordering the product in bulk saves them about 60 percent of the space.”

In addition to saving space by offering reusable bottles, any packaging costs, which can range from 10 to 30 percent of the product cost, are removed.

The result is a scalable way to bring together big brands and big retailers while saving customers money and mitigating single-use plastic waste. When customers refill their “smart reusable packaging” at an Algramo dispenser, they are rewarded with increased savings.

To date, Algramo’s total funding amount has totaled $11 million. This invested capital is supporting three key socially responsible investment themes: Climate innovation through mitigating plastic waste; business productivity by offering a true circular economy solution; and improving consumer accessibility by promoting inclusion and enabling consumer access to better priced, big brand products.

Once the latest pilot stations launch and if they operate successfully, Algramo can will be able to prove that its circular economy model performs well – even within the well-established, albeit ripe for disruption, retail and CPG sectors. The success of these global stations will increase Algramo’s valuation and should help to attract significant addition funding in the near future. Then, perhaps within the next several years, Algramo stations will become more prevalent – making access to consumer products, while eliminating plastic waste in the process, far more accessible to more consumers. This could be a likely win for everyone involved.

Image credit: Algramo/Instagram

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