- Obama to make landmark visit to Myanmar this month
- Australia to sign up to new Kyoto climate commitment, New Zealand out
- Earthquake hits northern Japan, no tsunami warning issued
Posted: 08 Nov 2012 08:13 PM PST
WASHINGTON/YANGON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama later this month will become the first U.S. leader to visit Myanmar, marking the strongest international endorsement so far of the fragile democratic transition in the once-isolated Southeast Asian country after decades of military rule.
Obama will travel to Myanmar as part of a November 17-20 tour of Southeast Asia that will include stops in Thailand and Cambodia, the White House said on Thursday as it confirmed his first international trip since he won a second term in Tuesday's election.
He is going ahead with the trip despite recent sectarian violence in western Myanmar, which has drawn concern from the United States and European Union.
U.N. human rights investigators have criticized the quasi-civilian government's handling of the strife between Buddhists and minority Muslims, and some Myanmar exiles see Obama's trip as premature before political reforms have been consolidated.
The visit to Myanmar, the first by a sitting U.S. president, will give Obama a chance to meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to encourage the "ongoing democratic transition," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Suu Kyi spent years in detention under the military as the symbol of the pro-democracy movement and was elected to parliament in April.
Obama's presence in Myanmar, also known as Burma, will highlight what his administration sees as a first-term foreign policy achievement and a development that could help counter China's influence in a strategically important region.
Washington takes some credit for a carrot-and-stick approach that pushed Myanmar's generals toward democratic change and led to Thein Sein taking office as reformist president in 2011.
Obama will be in Myanmar on November 19, according to a senior government source in Yangon.
While marking a milestone in U.S. efforts to promote reform in Myanmar, he also risks criticism for rewarding the new government too soon, especially after security forces failed to prevent bloody ethnic violence in the west of the country.
Some 89 people were killed in clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and minority Muslim Rohingyas, according to the latest official toll covering the last 10 days of October. Many thousands more have been displaced by the violence.
The U.S. Campaign for Burma, an exile group, said Obama's trip could "undermine the democracy activists and ethnic minorities," but that if the president was intent on going, he should broaden his agenda to include meetings with the still-powerful military and an address to parliament.
A senior administration official said Obama, who will also speak to civil society groups, was "acutely aware" of concerns about human rights, ethnic violence and political prisoners in Myanmar and would address those issues during his visit.
The United States eased sanctions on Myanmar this year in recognition of the political and economic changes under way, and many U.S. companies are looking at starting operations in the country, located between China and India, which has abundant resources and low-cost labour.
In November 2011, Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years.
Obama has sought to consolidate ties and reinforce U.S. influence across Asia in what has been dubbed a policy "pivot" toward the region as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.
Myanmar grew close to China during decades of isolation, reinforced by Western sanctions over its poor human rights record, but it now seeking to expand relations with the West.
Obama met Suu Kyi, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, on her visit to the United States in September. Thein Sein was also in the United States to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, but the two leaders did not meet.
U.S. Democratic Representative Joe Crowley, who is active on Myanmar issues, said Obama's trip could be "the most significant step" in support of democracy there.
But he said: "There is still much more to be done. Too many political prisoners remain locked up, ethnic violence must be stopped, and not all necessary political reforms have been put in place."
Obama will also be in Southeast Asia to attend meetings in Cambodia centred on an annual summit of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which is usually extended to take in leaders of partner countries.
Preliminary details for this year show the event will run from November 15 to November 20. The Cambodian government has said Obama will be in the capital, Phnom Penh, on November 18. The White House has yet to release a detailed itinerary.
The heads of government of China, Japan, Russia and other countries are also expected in Cambodia for the meetings.
Obama will also visit Thailand while in Asia, the White House said.
(Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel and Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 08 Nov 2012 08:08 PM PST
CANBERRA/WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Australia will sign up to the second round of Kyoto climate commitments, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said on Friday, but the push for global emissions cuts remained divided with New Zealand joining major countries to opt out of the Kyoto scheme.
With new U.N. climate negotiations due to start in Qatar this month, Australia joins Europe and a handful of other nations engaged in the second phase of emissions reductions. The first Kyoto period is due to end on December 31, with the new commitment period starting on January 1, 2013.
Neighbouring New Zealand said it would not sign up for the next phase and would instead join a separate convention, including large greenhouse gas emitters such as the United States and China.
Negotiations in Doha will start working out new targets for the Kyoto process, culminating in an agreement by 2015.
"Joining a second commitment period will ensure Australian businesses have access to international credits under the Clean Development Mechanism, helping Australia reduce emissions at the lowest cost to the economy," Combet said.
Australia accounts for around 1.5 percent of global emissions, but is the developed world's highest emitter per person, due to a heavy reliance on burning coal for electricity.
Data released last week shows Australia on track to honour its original Kyoto commitment to limit carbon emissions, blamed for global warming, to 108 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.
Emerging countries such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa seek stronger targets for rich countries. Under the first Kyoto period, emerging economies had no mandatory cuts.
Australia has a target to cut emissions by 5 percent of year 2000 levels by 2020, but Combet said that could be raised to up to 25 percent if there was a stronger global commitment.
Australia in July introduced a A$23 ($24) per tonne carbon tax on top polluters, which will move into an emissions trading scheme from mid 2015. Australia and the European Union have agreed to link their trading schemes by 2018.
New Zealand's abandonment of Kyoto 2 followed changes to its emissions trading scheme (ETS), which allowed unlimited use of carbon credits to meet targets at near-record low carbon prices.
The changes also kept out the agriculture sector, which accounts for around half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, from the ETS.
New Zealand Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said a new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through to 2020 would be set once technical issues had been settled.
In the meantime, experts said the government's commitment to emissions reductions remained unclear.
"Now that it is out of Kyoto, New Zealand has to announce a serious 2020 target - one that involves it actually reducing emissions and not relying on short-term forest credits if New Zealand wants to be taken seriously on climate action," said Simon Terry of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.
Wellington had made a conditional offer to cut emissions by 10-20 percent below 1990 levels, subject to global progress.
($1 = 0.9601 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by James Grubel in Canberra and Gyles Beckford in Wellington; Editing by Ron Popeski)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 08 Nov 2012 08:07 PM PST
TOKYO (Reuters) - An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.5 shook northern Japan on Friday, public broadcaster NHK said.
No tsunami warning was issued, and there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
(Reporting by Mayumi Negishi; Editing by Ken Wills)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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