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The Star Online: World Updates

Thai police fire teargas, rubber bullets at protesters

Posted: 25 Dec 2013 08:55 PM PST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police fired teargas and rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in the capital Bangkok on Thursday after demonstrators tried to disrupt planning for a February election, the first such incident in nearly two weeks.

The confrontation between police and about 500 protesters angry with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra came a day after the government again extended a special security law by two months.

The law, widened last month to cover all of the capital and nearby areas, allows police to ban gatherings, block routes, impose curfews and carry out searches, although such actions have been used sparingly.

Yingluck remains caretaker prime minister after calling a snap election for February 2 in an attempt to deflate weeks of mainly peaceful protests that, at their peak, have drawn 200,000 people on to the streets of Bangkok.

National Security Council head Paradorn Pattanathabutr said the police response on Thursday did not mark a change of policy.

"We have warned them and informed them every time before firing teargas," Paradorn told Reuters.

Seven protesters were taken to hospital with minor injuries, a public health official said.

The protesters draw their strength from Bangkok's middle class and elite who dismiss Yingluck as a puppet of her self-exiled elder brother, former premier and telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin and Yingluck have their power base in the rural north and northeast. Their opponents accuse Thaksin of manipulating the poor in those areas with populist policies such as cheap healthcare and easy credit.

The protesters gathered outside a Bangkok gymnasium where Thailand's Election Commission is working through the process of registering candidates for the February election.

Media said representatives of a number of parties planning to contest the election were inside the building at the time. Calls by Reuters reporters to officials inside could not be connected.

Police warned the protesters not to try to enter the building and then fired several rounds of teargas and rubber bullets when demonstrators tried to break down a fence.

The protesters, some of whom had been throwing rocks, soon withdrew.

Protesters are well prepared for such clashes, the last of which happened about two weeks ago. Many carry goggles and masks to cover their faces and water bottles to wash out their eyes.

The clash came a day after the Thai cabinet voted to extend the Internal Security Act by two months.

Protesters, led by fiery former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban, have vowed to disrupt the election and hound Yingluck from office. They want an unelected "people's council" to rule before elections are called.

The election has been made more uncertain by a boycott by the main opposition Democrat Party, which draws its support from Bangkok and the south, the same base as Suthep's group.

Yingluck has proposed the creation of an independent reform council to run alongside the elected government, an apparent attempt at compromise that was immediately rejected by the protesters.

Yingluck has not been in the capital for most of the past week, choosing instead to shore up her support in her power base to the north, and will not return to Bangkok until the New Year.

Her Puea Thai Party is almost certain to win the election, just as Thaksin's populist political juggernaut has won every vote since 2001. That run of success has come despite violent street protests and judicial and military intervention around previous polls.

Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 coup and has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008, when he was sentenced to two years in jail for graft charges he says were politically motivated.

The first two years of Yingluck's government were relatively smooth, until her party miscalculated in November and tried to push an amnesty bill through parliament that would have allowed her brother to return home a free man.

(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyonyat; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Japanese PM Abe visits shrine for war dead, China angered

Posted: 25 Dec 2013 08:45 PM PST

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on Thursday, a temple seen as a symbol of Japan's World War Two militarism, prompting a swift and sharp rebuke from China.

The first serving prime minister to visit the shrine in seven years, Abe however said he had no intention of hurting the sentiments of Japan's neighbours.

China and South Korea have repeatedly expressed anger in the past over Japanese politicians' visits to Yasukuni, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honoured along with war dead.

Tokyo's relations with Beijing and Seoul are already strained by territorial rows and disputes stemming from Japan's wartime occupation of large parts of China and its 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula.

Abe, who took office for a second term exactly one year ago, visited the shrine in central Tokyo around 0230 GMT. Television carried live video of his motorcade making its way to the shrine, built in 1896 by Emperor Meiji to enshrine the war dead, pray for eternal peace in Japan and to "foster friendly relations with people in the rest of the world".

The shrine played a central role in the wartime state Shinto religion which mobilised the population to fight in the name of a divine emperor.

On Thursday, Abe, dressed in a morning suit and a silver tie, bowed at the shrine before following a Shinto priest into an inner sanctum.

"There is criticism based on the misconception that this is an act to worship war criminals, but I visited Yasukuni Shrine to report to the souls of the war dead on the progress made this year and to convey my resolve that people never again suffer the horrors of war," Abe told reporters after the visit.

Stressing that it was natural for a nation's leader to pay his respects to those who died for their country, Abe said:

"I have no intention to hurt the feelings of the Chinese or Korean people."

Abe also said he shared the view of past Japanese leaders who had paid their respects at the shrine that ties with China and South Korea were important and that to make them firm was in Japan's national interests - and said that he would like to explain that if given the opportunity.

"It is my wish to respect each other's character, protect freedom and democracy and build friendship with China and Korea with respect, as did all the previous prime ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine," Abe said in an English-language statement issued later.

Beijing, however, swiftly condemned and protested the visit, which it called "brazen".

"The Chinese government expresses strong indignation at the Japanese leader's trampling on the feelings of the people of China and the other war victim nations and the open challenge to historical justice ... and expresses strong protest and serious condemnation to Japan," the foreign ministry said in a statement.


Abe's visit to the shrine is the first by a serving Japanese prime minister since 2006. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni during his 2001-2006 tenure were a major factor in the chill in ties between Japan and its Asian neighbours.

Abe, who succeeded Koizumi in 2006, stayed away during that term and repaired frayed ties with China with a summit meeting.

But he later said he regretted not visiting the shrine during his first 2006-2007 term. Visiting the shrine is part of Abe's conservative agenda to restore Japan's pride in its past and recast its wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

He also wants to ease the restraints of Japan's post-World War Two pacifist constitution on the military.

Sino-Japanese ties, already strained by a row over tiny Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by Beijing, chilled even further after China last month announced a new air defence identification zone that included airspace over the disputed islands.

China has criticised Japan's plans unveiled earlier this month to boost defence spending in coming years, buying early warning planes, beach assault vehicles and troop-carrying aircraft while seeking closer ties with Asian partners to counter a more militarily assertive China.

Abe has been active on the diplomatic front during his one year in office, but has not held summits with either Chinese or South Korean leaders.

Some political experts said Abe had probably calculated that his relatively high voter ratings could withstand any criticism over his Yasukuni pilgrimage, which would also shore up support in his conservative base.

He may also have felt that with ties with Beijing and Seoul in a deep freeze, a visit would hardly make things worse. But close ally the United States, which has made clear it does not favour Abe's historical revisionism, was unlikely to be pleased, the experts said.

"He probably thinks that things are not working well, so that this won't add further damage. I think he's wrong," said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Abe's voter ratings have stayed at around 60 percent for most of the year due mainly to hopes his "Abenomics" recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy and spending was working.

His support slipped below 50 percent in recent polls after his ruling bloc forced a law through parliament tightening penalties for leaking state secrets that Abe said was needed for national security but that critics said had echoes of Japan's strict wartime secrecy regime.

"He probably thinks that it's OK, that's he's relatively popular and it's a matter of conviction," Nakano said.

"But everyone knew with Koizumi ... he wasn't a revisionist nationalist. But with Abe, that is precisely the question some people were asking. Now we know the answer."

(Additional reporting by Mari Saito in Tokyo and Ben Blanchard and Sui-lee Wee in Beijing; Editing by Shinichi Saoshiro and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

China urges Japan to reflect on history after shrine visit

Posted: 25 Dec 2013 07:31 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry urged Japan on Thursday to keep its promises to reflect on its past wartime aggression, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for war dead.

"We solemnly urge Japan to abide by its commitment to reflect on its history of aggression, take measures to correct its error, eliminate the adverse effects and take concrete actions to win the trust of its Asian neighbours and the international community," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

Tokyo's relations with Beijing are already strained by territorial rows and disputes stemming from Japan's wartime occupation of large parts of China, which China considers Japan has never properly atoned for.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Li Hui; Writing by Ben Blanchard)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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