- U.S. lifts ban on NZ warships, NZ keeps nuclear-free stance
- China sets Monday verdict for ex-police chief at heart of Bo scandal
- Protest marks souring of Chinese democracy experiment
Posted: 20 Sep 2012 08:54 PM PDT
AUCKLAND (Reuters) - The United States has lifted a ban on visits by New Zealand warships to U.S. defence and coast guard bases around the world, further thawing relations after a 26-year stand-off on nuclear issues.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement during a visit to New Zealand on Friday. He said Washington would lift restrictions on military exercises and facilitate more talks with New Zealand even though Wellington maintains its long-held nuclear-free stance.
For the first time since the suspension of the ANZUS Treaty in 1986, Washington will allow individual visits by Royal New Zealand Navy ships to U.S. Department of Defense or Coast Guard facilities in the United States and around the world, Panetta said in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.
"These changes make it easier for our militaries to engage in discussions on security issues and to hold cooperative engagements that increase our capacity to tackle common challenges," he said.
Panetta said Washington and Wellington would work together despite lingering "differences of opinion in some limited areas".
The visit by Panetta, the first by a Pentagon chief in 30 years, signals a new era of U.S.-New Zealand defence links breached in the mid-1980s, when Wellington declared itself nuclear-free and barred its ports to nuclear warships.
While both Washington and Wellington acknowledged the improvement in relations and defence ties, New Zealand Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said New Zealand had an independent foreign policy and that its anti-nuclear ban was not negotiable.
"I don't think that we should get too hung up about trying to turn the clock back to pre-1986 because the reality is that the relationship is very, very good," Coleman said at a news conference following their meeting.
New Zealand has a small contingent of troops fighting with U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
During his visit Panetta is also meeting with other senior leaders to explore deeper U.S. military engagement with New Zealand as the United States rebalances its forces to the Asia-Pacific as part of a new military strategy.
In July, the United States and New Zealand agreed to hold regular high-level talks and to cooperate on maritime security, counter-terrorism, and peacekeeping operations.
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 20 Sep 2012 08:37 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court will announce its verdict on a former police chief at the centre of the country's biggest political scandal in decades on Monday, an official said, with observers in little doubt that he will be found guilty.
The hearing for Wang Lijun, former police chief of south-western Chongqing municipality, will come a week after he was tried in Chengdu on multiple charges, chiefly that he sought to cover up the murder of a British businessman by Gu Kailai, the wife of one of China's most senior and ambitious politicians, Bo Xilai.
"The verdict will be announced at 8:30 am on September 24 in our court," an official in the Chengdu court news department told Reuters.
Wang's defence lawyer confirmed the date.
China's Communist Party-run courts rarely find in favour of defendants and official accounts of Wang's trial have said that he admitted defecting to a U.S. consulate and did not contest the other charges.
Wang has been at the heart of a scandal that rocked China, exposing rifts and uncertainty at a time when the Communist Party is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
That leadership handover could come at a party congress as early as next month.
Wang, 52, lifted the lid on the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood in February when he fled to the consulate for over 24 hours and, according to sources, told envoys there about the murder that would later bring down Bo.
Within two months of Wang's visit to the consulate, Bo was sacked as party boss and from the Politburo and Bo's wife was accused of poisoning the businessman. Gu has since been given a suspended death sentence.
So far, Chinese officials and media have been silent on the fate of Bo. But an official account of Wang's trial for the first time implicated him in a criminal act, indicating that he had "angrily rebuked" Wang for confronting him with the murder allegations against Gu.
That reference to Bo increased the chances of him also facing criminal charges, possibly for covering up a crime.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, Sally Huang and Terril Yue Jones; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 20 Sep 2012 08:30 PM PDT
WUKAN, China (Reuters) - One of China's most celebrated experiments in grass-roots democracy showed signs of faltering on Friday, as frustrations with elected officials in the southern fishing village of Wukan triggered a small and angry protest.
On the first anniversary of an uprising that gave birth to the experiment, about 100 villagers rallied outside Wukan's Communist Party offices to express anger at what they saw as slow progress by the village's democratically elected governing committee to resolve local land disputes.
"We still haven't got our land back," shouted Liu Hancai, a retired 62-year-old party member, one of many villagers fighting to win back land that was seized by Wukan's previous administration and illegally sold off for development.
The small crowd, many on motorbikes, was kept under tight surveillance by plain-clothed officials fearful of any broader unrest breaking out. Police cars were patrolling the streets.
"There would be more people here, but many people are afraid of trouble and won't come out," Liu told Reuters.
A year ago, Wukan became a beacon of rights activism after the land seizures sparked unrest and led to the sacking of local party officials. That in turn led to village-wide elections for a more representative committee to help resolve the bitter rows.
Friday's demonstration was far less heated than the protests that earned Wukan headlines around the world last September. But the small rally reveals how early optimism over the ground-breaking adoption of local-level democracy has soured for some.
"The hopes are too high," said Yang Semao, Wukan's deputy village chief who was elected in the village polls in March.
At the time, expectations were high in this village, built on a sheltered harbour fringed by mountains, that he and his fellow elected officials could swiftly recover farmland that had been seized by the previous local administration.
"We have already been trying our best," Yang said, explaining that complex land contracts and bureaucratic red-tape were hindering their recovery of the land.
Some local critics said the new village committee, which includes several young leaders of last year's protests, lacked administrative experience, failed to engage the public and allowed itself to be manipulated and out-manoeuvred by higher authorities within the party.
The committee stuck letters onto walls around Wukan this week, detailing its progress to date: the return of some 253 hectares of land and other "steady steps", including the resurfacing of roads and other social policy initiatives.
But by Friday, some letters had been torn down by villagers.
"They were people's heroes," said Chen Jinchao, a villager still trying to get back two thirds of a hectare of farmland.
"But now we see them differently. We don't have any new hope. What's the point of electing them if they can't solve the (land) problem."
A man on a motorcycle veered near Wukan's respected village chief, Lin Zuluan, on Thursday and warned him that something big might soon happen, said Zhang Jiancheng, one of the young activists elected onto the village committee.
"Of every 100 things, we may do 50 of them. But people only complain about the 50 things we don't do ... The village committee has been trying to get the land back piece by piece. It's been a very painful process but we must follow legal procedures."
Some say recent discord has been partly sown by allies of the former disgraced village leader, Xue Chang, while higher officials in the Shanwei county seat of government remain tangled in shady deals involving hundreds of hectares of Wukan land in a new economic development zone.
"If Shanwei's corrupt officials aren't cleaned out completely, it is very difficult for us to move forward," Zhang said.
With China on the cusp of a tumultuous leadership transition, any further unrest at Wukan could impact Guangdong province's high-flying leader, Wang Yang, who some hailed as a reformer for his defusing of the Wukan standoff by acceding to key village demands and averting a potentially bloody crackdown.
Some villagers have spoken of marching again and putting real pressure on county and provincial authorities.
"In the end if they really force us to the very limits, it will be like a volcano exploding, you can't control it," said a senior villager who asked not to be named.
(Editing by Mark Bendeich)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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