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Obama battles to push stimulus package

WASHINGTON, January 9 – US president-elect Barack Obama\’s team was working on Friday to push forward giant stimulus measures to jolt the country out of recession after an unexpectedly rocky reception from his own party.

New signs emerged of the dire state of the global economy with South Korea\’s Ssangyong Motor applying for bankruptcy protection and China stepping in with more than 25 billion dollars in loans for its aviation industry.

Obama, who takes office on January 20, laid out a stimulus plan expected to reach some 775 billion dollars or more, which includes tax cuts and a investment in green technology.

"I don\’t believe it\’s too late to change course. But it will be if we don\’t take dramatic action as soon as possible," Obama said in a speech Thursday. "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years."

But members of Obama\’s own Democratic Party questioned the proposal, clouding hopes that Congress would quickly approve his ideas for boosting the world\’s largest economy.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad questioned giving individual taxpayers and couples a rebate of 500 to 1,000 dollars in a bid to prop up consumer spending.

"These marginal incentives are of marginal effectiveness," Conrad said.

"When people are afraid they are going to lose their jobs, if they get another 20 dollars a week they don\’t spend it, they save it."

Fellow Democratic Senator John Kerry suggested pouring a larger proportion of the stimulus package into alternative energy development to help ease the US reliance on expensive foreign sources of power.

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"Energy is the greatest opportunity we have in this economy," he said.

The Washington Post meanwhile reported that Obama\’s economic team was scrambling to overhaul a separate 700 billion-dollar financial rescue program approved last year.

The newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, said Treasury Secretary designate Timothy Geithner was working to broaden the bailout to include municipalities, small businesses and homeowners.

The Bush administration has already used half of the money but members of Congress were said to be deeply sceptical over whether it was working and reluctant to approve further spending.

Congress approved the intervention last year after Wall Street went into freefall, dragged down by a shortage of liquidity which serves as the economy\’s lifeblood.

Asian stock markets had mixed performances on Friday. Tokyo ended down nearly one percent ahead of key US jobs data out later in the day which was expected to show the results of widespread layoffs.

The auto industry has been affected particularly severely around the world. Hit by falling car sales, Ssangyong Motor of South Korea said Friday it had applied for court receivership to avoid bankruptcy.

The company\’s Chinese parent, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., made the decision after being turned down for new loans by the state-run Korea Development Bank, which pressed the company to put up more funding.

South Korea\’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 0.5 percentage points to 2.5 percent in hopes of reviving the slumping economy. It followed the Bank of England which on Thursday cut Britain\’s key rate to an all-time low of 1.5 percent.

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China, meanwhile, took the latest measure to help its beleaguered aviation sector as its top airline reported the first passenger decline in years.

The China Aviation Industry Corporation, the main state-owned aircraft maker, secured a pledge of up to 176 billion yuan (25.7 billion dollars) in domestic bank loans, state media said.

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