Nintendo Returns to Profit Despite Weak Sales

Japanese games giant Nintendo has posted a return to profit for the second quarter of the year despite being unable to reverse declining across the board sales. Nintendo, which is battling hard against larger rivals Microsoft and Sony, benefited from a weaker yen and more favourable trading conditions in the three months to the end of June, the company said in a statement.

Nintendo reported a net profit of $88 million, a significant gain on the $17.2 billion loss it recorded for the same quarter last year. The company’s loss in 2012, it said, was also significantly influenced by currency valuation fluctuations, with the yen much stronger at this time last year.

Sales, the company said, suffered as more consumers turn to cheaper games options, including mobile gaming. Nintendo managed to generate sales of $832 million over the period, a fall of nearly 4% on the same time last year. The company said it hopes the release of a number of new titles including The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will help to revive sales ahead of the holiday season.

Tough economic conditions in Europe and the United States – two of its largest markets – remains one of the company’s largest concerns, it said in its statement, along with the competition posed by smartphone app manufacturers, whose products are continuing to erode console makers’ profits.

To counter the appeal of cheap, or sometimes free, app offerings, Nintendo has released two new high-tech games machines – the 3DS and Wii U. Despite lower-than-expected initial sales figures for the 3DS, the world’s first gaming device with a 3D screen, and the Wii U, the successor to the popular Wii console, the company says it is still confident the devices can appeal to the mass market. The company said that it sold 1.4 million 3DS units in the quarter, way below expectations.

Nintendo says that it will be concentrating on promoting the Wii U through the next few quarters. “For the Wii U system we will attempt to concentrate on proactively releasing key titles from the second half of the year through next year to regain momentum for the platform,” Nintendo explained in its statement.

The comments came after the company posted disappointing console sales figures for the Wii U, revealing that it shifted just 160,000 units between April and June, a drop of 50% on the first quarter of the year. The company blames a series of delays in the console’s release for its slow start. It chose not to alter its prediction of sales of up to nine million units by March next year.

The company refused to be drawn to calls for it to enter the apps market, saying that its consoles aren’t phones, and are part of an altogether different gaming category. It did however take the opportunity to reveal the release of a new black version of the 3DS, which the company says will be available to buy from August 11.

Netanyahu Warns Against “Wishful Thinking” After Rouhani Election

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the suggestion that Iran will reengage constructively with the international community after the victory of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani in the country’s presidential election as “wishful thinking”, and urged international powers not to ease trade restrictions and embargos imposed on the economically struggling Persian nation.

“The international community should not fall into wishful thinking and be tempted to ease pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme,” the Israeli prime minister warned on Sunday. “Iran will be judged on its actions. If it insists on continuing to develop its nuclear programme the answer needs to be clear – stopping its nuclear programme by any means.”

Netanyahu pointed out that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Iran’s supreme leader – has final say on any decision to scrap the country’s nuclear programme, which Tehran has always insisted is used exclusively for electricity generation.

Netanyahu, who has been a long-standing critic of Iran’s decision to develop nuclear technologies, displayed none of the optimism that the country’s president, Shimon Perez, or justice minister Tzipi Livni, displayed when questioned about their reactions to Rouhani’s election.

Speaking to the press hours after Rouhani was named president, Perez said: “He said he will not go for these extreme policies; I’m sure he specified his policies. But it will be better, I am sure – that’s why the people voted for him.”

Livni echoed the president’s sentiments, describing Rouhani’s win as a victory for the majority of Iranians, who according to poll results, are eager for a more moderate voice to represent them.

Netanyahu’s comments come hours after Rouhani, a former nuclear inspector, insisted that he is ready to open a constructive dialogue with Western powers – a play many commentators speculate the president-elect opted for in order to differentiate him from his staunchly conservative predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was well known for his anti-west views and unwillingness to engage with the international community. Rouhani is not thought to be as enamoured by the prospect of developing a working nuclear programme as the outgoing president.

Netanyahu’s firm words were matched by the Israel’s minister for intelligence Yuval Steinitz, who also expressed reservations about climbing down on sanctions while Tehran still expressed nuclear ambitions. Steinitz claimed that Iran’s nuclear capability was equal to “30 North Koreas”, and that Iran is inches from crossing the “nuclear red line”.  Steinitz warned that allowing Iran to continue to operate nuclear facilities could alter “the balance of power once and for all between Islam and the Western World”.

The extreme picture painted by Steinitz’s was largely at odds with the views of world leaders, some of who are meeting at the Lough Erne resort in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland for this year’s G8 summit. A number of major powers, Russia, and critically the United States, welcomed Rouhani’s election, and expressed an eagerness to open a dialogue with the new regime.

The offices of Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama, who are both attending the summit, released separate statements congratulating Rouhani on his victory.

The Russian president “expressed confidence Hassan Rouhani’s work will further strengthen Russian-Iranian relations,” the Kremlin said.

Washington responded to Rouhani’s conciliatory speech with cautious optimism, seemingly appreciating the incoming president’s attempts to placate the distrust between Iran and the Obama administration. The White House said that it is committed to finding a “diplomatic solution that will fully address the concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme”.

While the United States and Russia have both expressed their willingness to engage with the new regime, it remains to be seen whether Rouhani is willing to negotiate the future of his country’s nuclear programme – a staple of Ahmadinejad’s rule – in order to develop a political equipoise.

“A new opportunity has been created by this great epic, and the nations who tout democracy and open dialogue should speak to the Iranian people with respect and recognise the rights of the Islamic republic,” Rouhani exclaimed after his victory.

Rouhani was elected on the first count, beating five other candidates to win 50.7 per cent of the vote. His nearest challenger, Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, only managed to secure 16.5 per cent of the ballots.

Hollande Confuses China and Japan during Tokyo Visit

French president Francois Hollande was left embarrassed and red-faced after referring to the Japanese people as “Chinese” at a press conference held in Tokyo early on Friday.

The cringe-worthy gaffe, which would be more at home among the annals of Springfield’s mayor Joe Quimby, went unnoticed by the Japanese premier, Shinzo Abe, who was standing at the podium opposite Hollande, and by the majority of the Japanese speaking press attendees – primarily because the president was speaking French, and the translator who was dictating to the waiting press in real-time, seamlessly covered the slip up.

Hollande probably would have escaped unscathed if it wasn’t for one bilingual journalist who promptly relayed the message back to Paris, where waiting media quickly made the blunder national news.

After being quizzed by media for an explanation, officials in the Elyse palace explained that Hollande was “tired”, presumably a result of the no doubt exhausting 9,000km trip from Paris to Tokyo.

Hollande’s three-day trip to the Far East is the first official visit made by a French leader since Jacques Chirac’s in 1996. He had met with the Japanese premier to discuss nuclear ties and terrorism – the subject he was rattling on about when the faux pas occurred.

Hollande isn’t the only national leader guilty of a slip of the tongue however – he himself was on the receiving end a few weeks back when German chancellor called him Francois Mitterand, one of his predecessors.

Chemical Weapons Used in Syria – UN Report

UN human rights inspectors say they have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the organisation’s weapons watchdog has uncovered evidence of chemical weapons usage in Syria, although they have not placed the blame on either side, saying that it could have been the forces of Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad or opposition rebels who made use of the weapons, which are banned under international law.

The team says it made the discovery when it was examining four purported toxic attack scenes in the war-torn country back in March.

“The conflict in Syria has reached new levels of brutality. War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace,” the inspectors said in their 29-page report.

The report, the fifth made by the team since civil war broke out in Syria over two years ago, was compiled using information gathered in more than 450 interviews carried out between January and May, as well as local reports and YouTube footage.

The team stressed that the attacks’ perpetrators must be brought to justice stating that “The documented violations are consistent and widespread; (there is) evidence of a concerted policy implemented by the leaders of Syria’s military and government”.

The report criticised both the insurgent rebels and the forces of under siege premier Bashar al-Assad for grotesque tactics, with show trials and subsequent executions – many involving innocent civilians – among the intimidatory tactics used by both sides. Eighty thousand fighters and civilians have lost their lives since hostilities began in March 2011.

Speaking after the release of the report, the chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry commented on the report’s findings, saying that it is not possible for the body to determine exactly which agents had been used. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator,” Paulo Pinheiro told a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the French foreign ministry has said it believes the banned nerve agent sarin has been used by a side in the conflict – though it cannot be sure which one. The statement, reported on by Al Jazeera, quotes French foreign minister Laurent Fabius as saying that tests conducted by French officials – which have since been handed to the UN — “show the presence of sarin in various samples”. The ministry said that it is unacceptable for war criminals to continue to escape unpunished.

The revelations come as another UN report released this week urged the international community to refrain from assisting sides in the conflict, warning of a further escalation of violence. The caution came on the same day that Moscow defended its decision to supply the Assad regime with a fresh battery of missiles, a move it explained it took in response to the European-led initiative to arm the rebels aiming to drive Assad out of power.

“There is a human cost to the political impasse that has come to characterise the response of the international community to the war in Syria,” the report read. It went on to ask the international community to refrain from providing weaponry to either side in the conflict “given the clear risk that the arms will be used to commit serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.”

What should the Chinese Gov’t do about its Air Pollution?

The runaway economic success story of the past decade, China has earned plaudits from developed economies across the globe, primarily for its attempts at free market trading and widespread economic liberalisation, but also for its attempt to become an environmental trend setter by embracing newly developed clean technologies on mass.

The country has managed to successfully avoid the same austere conditions many of its fellow economies of scale have had to contend with over the past six years, and although the country’s rate of growth appears to have slowed somewhat in the last few quarters, its ambitions certainly haven’t. Despite its many successes, China is facing a number of challenges – controlling its often volatile rate of inflation, rooting out corruption and black market operations and modernising its energy infrastructure, the latter of which has perhaps the most telling impact on the one billion-strong Chinese population.

China’s communist party leadership opened its doors to the outside world for the first time at the turn of the millennium, giving the world what was at the time a rare glimpse into the globe’s largest secretive nation. Since then, the development of new trade links have allowed the Chinese economy to gorge, resulting in a period of near exponential growth. With that however, in a twist of fate which could be views as China becoming a victim of its own success, the country’s larger cities, Beijing and Shanghai in particular, have seen its air pollution levels soar, and smog become a regular eyesore on the cities’ otherwise inspiring skylines.

A number of factors contribute to China’s smog issue, with the main being that coal plants generate roughly 70% of the country’s power, and in doing so send millions of tonnes of harmful suphur dioxide into the atmosphere. Although it may appear as if the strict authoritarian voice of the Chinese Communist Party would be enough for energy suppliers to make an effort to curb emissions, China’s governmental structure is regionally fractured, and many decentralised governments in the outlying areas simply ignore new energy protocols decreed by the central powers in Beijing.

Shoppers and commuters making their way around the country’s sprawling urban centres sport protective facemasks as part of the daily norm, with designer fashion masks flogged by well-known brands worn by many. Children, the elderly and pregnant women are among the most at risk. The problem is so extensive that the poor condition of China’s air led to 1.2 million premature deaths in the country in 2010 alone – the fourth largest cause of the death in the country, behind smoking, high blood pressure and dietary issues. Three years prior, a study by the World Bank concluded that 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China.

China’s air pollution problems persist despite a slew of measures introduced by Beijing, with food safety and clean drinking water initiatives replaced on the political agenda by smog tackling projects. Most recently, the Chinese government has agreed to cooperate with authorities in Japan and South Korea to monitor the levels of air pollution drifting through the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. The effort will see new levels of cooperation between the three neighbours, all of which have had to contend with the same environmental impediments.

Although Chinese lawmakers have laid out plans to invest more in renewable energies and to wean the country from the its dependency on coal, its motor industry is predicted to present a more stubborn challenge, despite new fuel emission standards in some major cities requiring cleaner fuels than is demanded in more developed European urban centres. The amount of consumers buying motor vehicles in China surpassed that of the U.S. in 2009 and of Europe in 2012. Ironically, a congestion tackling measure trialled during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing has contributed to the explosion in car ownership in the country, with a requirement for cars with licence plates ending in odd numbers and even numbers using the roads on alternate days leading to more consumers buying two cars – one with each type of plate.

In order to combat the rise in pollution, Chinese consumers – perhaps the most powerful group of buyers on the planet – have done their part to curb emissions. Protests by citizens opposing the construction of new chemical plants and dumping sites have already yielded results – in particular in Xiamen and Dalian – and more of the same initiative will be needed to combat air pollution, the country’s most grave environmental health threat.