Venezuela-Colombia Ties – A meeting between Venezuela’s opposition leader Henrique Capriles and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has enraged Venezuelan officials, with the country’s foreign minister Elías Jaua telling state TV that the meeting “will bring a derailment of the good relations that we have,” reports the Associated Press. Capriles is currently trying to gather international support for his attempts to overturn the results of April’s Presidential election, which he narrowly lost to the socialist governing party candidate, Nicolás Maduro (who was hand-picked by late President Hugo Chávez as his successor) and which Capriles claims was fraudulent. Maduro’s government meanwhile is battling an economic crisis and the country’s endemic violent crime, as well as a scandal involving a left-wing talk show host that has led to speculation that the regime is falling apart.
Meat Imports — China’s largest pork producer wants to buy American pork company Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion to meet the nation’s growing demands for meat, according to the BBC. Shuanghui International has offered to pay for the company in cash and, if the deal is approved, it would be the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese rival. The takeover bid, however, “is likely to be closely scrutinized in the U.S. by regulators due to a regular series of Chinese food scandals, including the sale of tainted meat,” writes the British broadcaster.
Sorcery Law — Papua New Guinea plans to repeal its 1971 Sorcery Act and reinstate the death penalty in certain cases to reduce violence against people accused of practicing witchcraft, reports the New York Times. In the past year, a rise in the number of public killings of people accused of sorcery has prompted more international pressure on the government to end such violence. Under the new law, rape, robbery and murder are among the crimes that can warrant a death sentence. New methods of execution — lethal injection, asphyxiation, firing squad and electrocution — have also been added to the law.
Employee Loyalty — Struggling South Korean construction firms are pushing their employees to take out loans and buy unsold apartments, reports Reuters. An official at Poonglim Industrial Co. said employees took loans on behalf of the firm, while the company made the interest payments. Loans, however, underscore the seriousness of South Korea’s outstanding household debt, which has reached nearly $1 trillion. South Korea’s level of household debt has doubled over the past ten years and today, debt-to-income ratios are higher than those in the U.S. before the sub-prime crash in 2008. A weak domestic economy — projected to grow 2.6% this year — has increased levels of debt and prolonged the property market slump.
The Cost of War – The war in Afghanistan has cost Britain more than £37 billion ($56 billion) according to a new book, reports the Guardian, with the daily cost of maintaining Britain’s presence in Afghanistan estimated at £15 million ($22.7 million) per day since 2006. In his book Investment in Blood, which is highly critical of the U.K.’s role in the conflict, Frank Ledwidge claims that by 2020 Britain will have spent at least £40 billion ($60.6 billion) on its campaign in Afghanistan – a sum he says would have been enough to recruit over 5,000 police officers or nurses in Britain and pay for them throughout their careers. Ledwidge also estimates that British troops in Afghanistan’s Helmand province have killed at least 500 non-combatants, and argues that the restive province (which is home to Camp Bastion, Britain’s main military base in Afghanistan, where this week it emerged that dozens of Afghan prisoners are being held) is no more stable now than it was when British troops arrived in 2006, writes the Guardian.