- South Korea's Park pledges engagement with Pyongyang
- U.S. storm victims face housing crisis as cold snap hits
- Merkel coalition agrees welfare changes as poll looms
Posted: 04 Nov 2012 08:22 PM PST
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's presidential frontrunner Park Geun-hye proposed on Monday to open liaison offices in the capitals of the rival Koreas in a sweeping policy statement that aimed to revive ties between the two countries.
Park, who represents the conservative New Frontier Party and is seeking to become the country's first woman president, said she was willing to meet North Korea's leader but said Pyongyang must renew its commitment to end its nuclear programme.
Park, who is the daughter of assassinated leader Park Chung-hee, leads her two major liberal opponents by double digits in a race for a December 19 vote to pick South Korea's president for a single five-year term.
Park's call for a more accommodative policy toward the North is aimed at distancing herself from President Lee Myung-bak's hardline position.
The two Koreas remain technically at war after an armistice rather than a peace treaty ended the 1950-53 Korean War. In 2010, the North shelled a civilian area in the South and is accused of a deadly naval attack.
North Korea under its untested new leader Kim Jong-un has resumed verbal attacks on Lee's government and on Park.
Pyongyang is widely seen as favouring the liberal opposition's Moon Jae-in, who has pledged unconditional aid for the impoverished and isolated country.
"For continued and systematic development of South-North economic cooperation and social and cultural exchange, I will establish South-North exchange and cooperation offices in Seoul and Pyongyang," Park told a news conference.
The proposal for liaison offices dates back to the early 1990s before the leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time in 2000.
Park called for a confidence building process as a way to normalise ties between the two Koreas, adding it should begin with the two sides reaffirming existing agreements.
"In order to build confidence, there must be various channels of dialogue. I will meet with the leader of the North if that is needed for the development of South-North relationship," she said.
Offering a different policy approach to Lee, Park also said she would separate the humanitarian crisis in North Korea from politics.
Lee, who cut off aid to the North when he took power in 2008, has linked a resumption of food aid to a political thaw.
North Korea experienced a devastating famine in the 1990s from which its economy has not recovered, and a third of its population is malnourished, according to U.N. estimates.
The country needs about 5 million tons of grain and potatoes to feed its people and since the early 1990s its annual harvest has been 3.5-4.7 million tons, according to most observers.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:25 PM PST
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A housing crisis loomed in New York City as victims of superstorm Sandy struggled without heat in near-freezing temperatures on Sunday and nearly 1 million people in neighbouring New Jersey shivered in the dark without power.
Fuel shortages and power outages lingered nearly a week after one of the worst storms in U.S. history flooded homes in coastal neighbourhoods. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 30,000 to 40,000 people in New York City alone would need shelter.
"We don't have a lot of empty housing in this city. It's a problem to find housing. We're not going to let anybody go sleeping in the street," Bloomberg said. "But it's a challenge and we're working on this as fast as we can."
Temperatures were forecast to fall close to freezing overnight and an early-season "Nor'easter" storm was expected to hit the battered region this week with strong winds and heavy rain.
"The power is back, but we have no heat," said Adeline Camacho, a volunteer who was giving soup and sandwiches to needy residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Sunday. "A lot of people haven't been able to bathe or stay warm. Last night was cold and this night is going to be much worse."
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said federal agencies are looking for apartments and hotel rooms for people displaced by Sandy. "Housing is really the number one concern," Napolitano said at a news conference with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Overnight, at least two more bodies were found in New Jersey - one dead of hypothermia - as the overall North American death toll from Sandy climbed to at least 113.
"People are in homes that are uninhabitable," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.
Concerns are also growing that voters displaced by Sandy won't get to polling stations on Election Day on Tuesday. Scores of voting centres were rendered useless by the record surge of seawater in New York and New Jersey.
STRUGGLING IN STATEN ISLAND
Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before turning north and hammering the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on Monday with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds.
The two new deaths in New Jersey - where the storm came ashore last Monday night - included a 71-year-old man who suffered from hypothermia and a 55-year-old man who died from smoke inhalation in a house fire, police said on Sunday.
That raised New Jersey's death toll to 24 while the New York City death count was 40.
In the hard-hit borough of Staten Island, Marie Mandia's house had a yellow sticker on it, meaning the city restricted its use. The storm surge broke through her windows and flooded her basement and main floor, the retired teacher said.
"I'm not staying here. There's no protection," said Mandia, 60, who stood outside by a pile of her ruined things - a washer, drier, television and furniture. "Here's my life. Everybody's looking at it."
Similar scenes of destruction were to be seen in the Rockaways, a strip of land along the Atlantic in Queens. Street after street, people were digging out from under several feet of sand and cleaning up from the deluge of water that ripped apart fences, turned over cars and left homes flooded.
Volunteers made their way there to help, even as life appeared to be back to normal in Times Square, where the neon lights were bright and Broadway theatres were up and running.
"It's like the city, the officials, have forgotten us. Only our neighbours and strangers, volunteers, have been here," Gregory Piechocki said. "We don't need food or water. We need a warm place to sleep and some sign that we aren't forgotten."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 182,000 individuals in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey had registered for assistance by Sunday afternoon, and more than $158 million had been approved.
Sunday was to have been marathon day in New York, an occasion that normally draws more than 40,000 runners from around the world. But Bloomberg abruptly called off the race on Friday, bowing to criticism that it would divert resources from flood-ravaged neighbourhoods.
Without a race, hundreds of runners set off on informal runs to deliver food and clothes to people in need. More than 1,000 people crowded onto two Staten Island Ferry boats early on Sunday, headed to the stricken borough with relief supplies.
Ruth Silverberg, 59, recently took a cruise in the Bahamas. She returned to her Staten Island home Sunday for the first time since the storm and found more than 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water in her basement. "Things were just floating. I thought it would take me two weeks to clear it out," she said.
Instead, a group of 15 marathon runners formed an assembly line and cleared the basement of its contents in two hours. "I'm awed," Silverberg said, her voice breaking.
FUEL AND POWER CRISIS
Fuel supplies continued to rumble toward disaster zones and electricity was slowly returning to darkened neighbourhoods where many families have been without power for six days.
In New Jersey, where residents were waiting for hours in line at gas stations, Christie tried to ease the fuel crunch by reassuring people that refineries and pipelines were back online and gas was being delivered. "We do not have a fuel shortage," he said at a news conference.
The New York Harbor energy network was returning to normal on Sunday with mainline power restored, but there were growing concerns about heating oil supplies with cold weather forecast.
Power restorations over the weekend relit the skyline in Lower Manhattan for the first time in nearly a week and allowed 80 percent of the New York City subway service to resume. But Bloomberg said it would be a "very, very long time" before power would return to certain New York neighbourhoods along the coast.
Most schools were due to reopen on Monday, though some were still being used as shelters. Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, Long Island, was housing about 100 people and expecting more to arrive as temperatures fall.
Some 1.9 million homes and business still lacked power across the Northeast on Sunday, down from 2.5 million the day before.
"All these numbers are nice, but they mean nothing until the power is on in your house," Cuomo said.
One of those still without power was 70-year-old Ramon Rodriguez, who lives in the Brooklyn seafront neighbourhood of Red Hook. "I feel like I've spent my whole Social Security check on batteries and candles," Rodriguez said as he waited in line at the 99 Cent Dreams store. His search for ice to keep his freezer cold came up short. But, he added, "at least it's cold enough to leave food outside the windowsill."
At the building where he lives, garbage bags were piled high and the intercom that is typically used for security was not working, so the front door was unlocked.
ELECTION FACES 'REAL PROBLEMS'
President Barack Obama, neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, ordered emergency response officials to cut through government "red tape" and work without delay to help affected areas return to normal.
With the post-storm chaos overshadowing the final days of campaigning, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 68 percent of those surveyed approved of how Obama handled Sandy, while 15 percent disapproved.
New Jersey has said it will allow people displaced by the storm to vote by email. In New York City, some 143,000 voters will be reassigned to different polling sites.
Bloomberg said the Board of Elections has "real problems," and warned that it would be critical to make sure poll workers were informed of the changes.
"Unfortunately, there is a history of not communicating changes to their poll workers," Bloomberg said, adding the board has proven to be "dysfunctional" in recent years.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus throughout the U.S. Northeast; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Claudia Parsons; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stacey Joyce)
Utilities feel heat as 1.9 million still dark after Sandy
Factbox - Storm Sandy blamed for at least 113 deaths in U.S., Canada
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 04 Nov 2012 06:18 PM PST
BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition reached agreement early on Monday on contentious social welfare issues that it hopes will bolster its support in the countdown to federal elections next September.
After nearly eight hours of talks that underlined the degree of discord simmering within her three-party government, Merkel and other leaders agreed to scrap an unpopular health surcharge and to introduce extra child benefits, coalition sources said.
Merkel's junior coalition partner, the pro-business, liberal Free Democrats (FDP), is particularly desperate to impress voters after opinion polls have regularly shown it failing to clear the five percent threshold for entering parliament.
The FDP has long had to accept that tax cuts - one of its traditional causes - are not possible at a time of fiscal austerity, with Merkel leading the euro zone's efforts to overcome its three-year-old sovereign debt crisis.
The coalition, plagued by squabbles since taking power in 2009, aims to balance Germany's budget by 2014, helped by robust economic growth that has bucked the euro zone trend, although strong tax revenues are expected to tail off next year.
Instead, the FDP has pushed hard for abolition of the 10-euro-per-quarter payments for visits to the doctor, saying they have spawned red tape without reducing waiting times.
In return, the FDP reluctantly backed benefit payments for parents who keep their toddlers at home, a policy championed by the Christian Social Union (CSU), the conservative Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).
Critics, including in the FDP and CDU, say this will keep women out of the workplace and children of poorer immigrants out of kindergartens where they would learn German and integrate.
The main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), who have taken a more assertive political stance since choosing former finance minister Per Steinbrueck as their candidate for chancellor next year, have vowed to challenge the child benefit plan in court.
The payments will only start from next August, shortly before the election, not as previously envisaged from January, the coalition sources said.
In their talks, billed as the last chance to launch large projects in this parliament, the coalition leaders also earmarked fresh funds for transport and agreed steps to help poorer pensioners.
Merkel's conservatives remain the most popular force in German politics with 38 percent support, an opinion poll published showed on Sunday, well ahead of the SPD's 29 percent.
But the poll, published in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, confirmed the FDP, on just 4 percent, would fail to win seats in the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament. The SPD's favoured coalition partner, the Greens, were on 13 percent.
Such electoral arithmetic suggests Merkel might have to build a 'grand coalition' with the centre-left SPD after the 2013 election, like the one she led from 2005 until 2009.
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: World Updates |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|