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CIVETS Watch: Google Launches South Africa Web Project

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The search giant is working to get more small businesses up and running on the Web.

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It looks like Google (GOOG) is creating new search results and ad placement opportunities while doing good works abroad. The company has launched a program in South Africa that helps small business people build their own websites and launch their businesses online.

Google has introduced similar programs in 23 other countries, and claims to have helped 400,000 small and medium-sized businesses get online.

In South Africa, mobile phone company Vodacom and the government are partners in the venture. The government hopes that Woza Online, as it is called in South Africa, helps small business grow into bigger businesses that can create jobs. Despite its rapidly-growing economy and status as economic gateway to the continent, South Africa's unemployment rate remains a crushing 25%.

The first 10,000 people to sign up at Woza Online get the service free, from site-building tools to a sub-domain name, a hosting service and Google support.

A government site said the first takers for the free offer included owners of a Johannesburg cake bakery, a Soweto bird-watching company and a toymaker.

CIVETS In Brief:

Colombian Bank Grows With HSBC Buy
Banco Davivienda SA of Colombia will buy HSBC Holdings' (HBC) operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras for $801 million in cash.

The sale includes 136 bank branches with $4.3 billion in assets in the three countries, London-based HSBC said. Europe's largest bank is shedding some assets in order to concentrate on the biggest markets. In Latin America, it is retaining its branches in Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua and the Bahamas, according to BusinessWeek.

Banco Davivienda SA expects its purchase to grow the company by 20%, and help it meet its goal of listing its stock in New York by the end of 2012, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A Mountain of Gold Is Missing
Freeport McMoRan (FCX) lost a lot of gold last year in the prolonged and bitter strike by miners working at Grasberg, its vast mine site in Indonesia.

In its quarterly results, released last week, the Arizona-based company revealed its production losses from the months-long strike in Indonesia, and another strike by Peruvian miners: 275,000 ounces of gold and 235 pounds of copper in 2011.

The Grasberg site contains the world's largest known reserves of both metals.

Freeport reported a 60% drop in fourth-quarter profit, but beat lowered expectations. The strike was settled late last year.

Vietnam Inflation Slows a Bit
Vietnam's inflation rate slowed for a fifth consecutive month in January, but it's still running at an annual rate of 17.27%. The government hopes to force the climb in consumer prices back to a rate of 8.5% to 9% by the end of 2012.

The nation's gross domestic product grew 5.89% last year, down from 6.78% in 2010. The government has been trying to slow down the country's economic growth in order to curb inflation.

Egypt Still Waiting for Promised Aid
The international community was quick to promise assistance to Egypt after the Arab Spring uprising, but a year later little of it has materialized.

According to Carina Kamel, a correspondent for Al Arabiya television, the G8 group of the world's richest nations promised $20 billion. It seems it's still awaiting ratification by member nations. Egypt's Mideast allies promised $7 billion. So far, only Saudi Arabia and Qatar have come through, with $1 billion.

Foreign investment and the country's key tourism industry dried up after the ouster of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

Now, Egypt's support in Washington has also become rocky. Egyptian security forces recently raided the offices of several U.S.-backed pro-democracy groups in Cairo to monitor the country's first free elections.

According to NPR, some in Congress want to block military assistance to Egypt until it offers assurances that it is at least on a path to democracy. Egypt has received military aid from the U.S. since the Camp David Accords between Israel and the U.S., mediated by President Jimmy Carter.
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