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Russia’s Gazprom Takes Control of Serbian Oil Monopoly

Russia added Serbia’s oil monopoly to its recent string of energy acquisitions in a deal that will also allow Moscow to send more natural gas to Europe through its South Stream pipeline, it was announced Tuesday.

Four days after signing a major pipeline deal with Bulgaria, the Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom agreed to buy a 51 percent stake in NIS, the Serbian state-owned oil company. The purchase was announced in a statement by the Serbian government.

The deal was yet another blow to the European Union’s ambitions to build its own 2,000-mile pipeline to bring gas to Europe from Iran and Azerbaijan via Turkey, analysts said.

The EU’s Nabucco pipeline project was conceived to allow Europe to reduce its dependence on Russia, which already supplies a quarter of the bloc’s natural gas. Nabucco has been dogged by logistical delays, lack of political will and disputes over financing, the analysts said.

“As regards the deal between Russia and Serbia, we can blame the EU for some of this,” said Borut Grgic, an energy expert and director of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Ljubljana, Slovenia. “In all its negotiations with Serbia when dealing with the future status of Kosovo, the EU never brought up with Serbia the issue of energy security and how Serbia could play an important role for Europe,” he added.

In Wake of War, Congo’s High Death Rate Shows Little Change

Five years after Congo’s catastrophic war officially ended, the rate at which people are dying in the country remains virtually unchanged, according to a new survey, despite the efforts of the world’s largest peacekeeping force, billions of dollars in international aid, and an historic election that revived democracy after decades of violence and despotism.

The survey, released Tuesday, estimated that 45,000 people continue to die every month, about the same pace as in 2004, when the war had just ended and the international push to rebuild the country had scarcely begun. Almost all the deaths come from hunger and disease, signs that the country is still grappling with the aftermath of a war that gutted its infrastructure, forced millions to flee, and flattened its economy.

In all, more than 5.4 million people have died in Congo since the war began in 1998, according to the most recent survey’s estimate, the latest in a series completed by the International Rescue Committee, an American aid organization. Nearly half of the dead were children younger than five.

Perhaps most alarming, while the death rate has slightly decreased in eastern Congo, the last festering node of conflict, it has actually increased in some parts of central Congo, though the area has not seen combat in several years. The study’s authors and other aid organizations said that the focus of aid dollars on the east and neglect of the region by government were the most likely explanations for the changes.

Italy’s Premier Tries To Patch Up Support

Prime Minister Romano Prodi defiantly called Tuesday for a vote of confidence in both houses of parliament, a move he hopes will keep his wounded coalition government alive. His longtime nemesis, the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, kept up pressure for new elections he hopes will make him Italy’s leader again.

“I think it can be done this time, too,” Prodi told reporters, referring to the way his fractured government had weathered many crises in his 20 months in power. He spoke just before addressing parliament’s lower house, demanding public votes of confidence on a government he defended.

But the day after the loss of a crucial ally threw Prodi’s government into crisis, Berlusconi said Prodi’s days were numbered and that elections were the only solution.

“I still expect him to try to wiggle out of it,” said Berlusconi, who was defeated in April 2006 by Prodi and his center-left coalition. “But I hope that won’t happen and that we can go straight to elections.”

By the end of the day, no signs of easy resolution had emerged, as the full complexity of Italian politics — in which friends fight friends as often as enemies — revealed itself. The nation’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, who will play a leading role in what happens next, remained silent on which option he favored.

Tokyo Markets Plunge as Global Investors Lose Confidence

From buoyant optimism just two years ago, the mood among foreign investors in Japan has swung to grim pessimism.

An intense sense of disappointment that the country has not kept promises to open itself to the global economy, combined with a global retrenchment of investment portfolios after America’s housing-loan crisis, has proved particularly destructive to Tokyo’s stock markets.

Even in the current global rout of world bourses, the size of the declines on Tokyo’s stock markets stands out. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index has lost a third of its value since mid-July, and the Tokyo Stock Exchange has lost $1.3 trillion in market value — equivalent to the entire economy of Canada. By comparison, major indexes in New York, London, and Frankfurt are down 13 to 16 percent since mid-July.

On Tuesday, the Nikkei plunged 5.7 percent, to 12,573.05, its biggest daily drop since the session after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“People are giving up on Japan,” said Patrick Mohr, director for equity research at Nikko Citigroup in Tokyo. “In this environment, investors want to see results. There is a perception that none of Japan’s reform promises have come through.”