- Japan voters back PM Abe's efforts to spur growth, beat deflation
- In Newtown, debate begins on future of school massacre site
- Hugo Chavez's condition improving - Venezuela
Posted: 13 Jan 2013 07:28 PM PST
TOKYO (Reuters) - More than two thirds of Japanese voters support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, a media survey published on Monday showed, with many of them praising his efforts to battle deflation and stimulate the economy.
Abe took office last month after his conservative Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) landslide election victory on December 16, promising to revive the world's third-biggest economy with bold monetary easing and big spending by the debt-laden government.
Support for Abe's cabinet stood at 68 percent, the Yomiuri newspaper's latest survey showed, up from 65 percent in a previous poll taken shortly after he took office.
The survey was taken over the weekend after Abe's cabinet approved on Friday $117 billion (72.4 billion pounds) spending to stimulate growth, bringing a total stimulus package to 20.2 trillion yen (140.4 billion pounds) including spending by local governments and private-sector firms.
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed supported Abe's policy of boosting coordination with the Bank of Japan and placing more emphasis on economic growth.
But people were split over Abe's energy policy, with 44 percent in favour of a plan to restart off-line nuclear reactors that are confirmed safe and 46 percent opposed, according to the poll.
Nuclear energy has been a particularly emotive issue since the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear energy plant triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The poll also found showed that 37 percent of respondents would vote for the LDP in the proportional representation stage of an upper house election expected in July, compared with 16 percent for the Japan Restoration Party and 8 percent for the Democratic Party of Japan.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 13 Jan 2013 06:45 PM PST
NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - Parents of children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut expressed mixed feelings on Sunday about what should be done with the facility and its grounds following a December shooting rampage that killed 20 students and six staff members.
Speaking at the first of two "community conversations" on the fate of the school, parents and residents of the community discussed whether to return children to the school or demolish it and build a memorial on the grounds.
Frantic parents who arrived at the school following the December 14 shooting had been directed to a nearby firehouse to learn the fate of their children.
"Unless you were a parent of a Sandy Hook student that day and had to walk to that firehouse, you don't know how we feel," Christine Wilford, the mother of two children who survived the shooting, said during her turn at the microphones set up in an auditorium at nearby Newtown High School.
"On that day, I looked around and it was my Sandy Hook family," said Wilford, who echoed what most parents said at the meeting, which was they wanted to hear what families said privately about the facility's future before deciding her own preference.
The mass killings plunged Newtown, a rural New England town of 27,000 residents about 70 miles northeast of New York City, into grief, along with much of the rest of the nation.
The shootings prompted President Barack Obama to place Vice President Joe Biden at the head of a task force that will find ways to curb gun violence. Biden is due to submit the recommendations as early as Tuesday.
The vice president has said he will recommend universal background checks for gun buyers and new limits on the capacity of magazines like those used by the Connecticut gunman. Gun rights groups said on Sunday that these restrictions would fail in Congress.
The elementary school remains closed to everyone but police investigating the attack. Its students, more than 400 children in kindergarten through fourth grade, have been relocated to a school in the neighbouring town of Monroe.
Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra told the audience that the final decision on the school's fate will come only after months of discussions with other groups, including teachers who were there during the shooting and families that lost children.
"The process ahead of us will take months," Llodra said. "But we need to bring our Sandy Hook students home."
'AN ABSOLUTE INJUSTICE'
Merim Bajraliu, a senior at the high school whose sister attended Sandy Hook, said knocking the school down only increases the damage caused by the gunman.
"Some of my best childhood memories were at Sandy Hook school," Bajraliu said. "I don't think a psychopath should take this away from us. Razing the school would be an absolute injustice to those whose lives were cut short that day."
Several parents agreed with Bajraliu, saying their children are asking to return to the school.
And yet one father who asked not to be identified said his first grader has said he never wanted to step foot in the school again, nor does his wife. He asked that whatever decision is made about the school's future, that families be given the opportunity to attend any other school in the district.
Despite the differences, most of the parents agreed not to separate the children from their classmates.
"You can't divide those kids up. They've been through too much," said Jodi Markowski, mother of a second grader. "It's not too soon. I want them to know where they are going to school."
Families who lost children in the massacre are scheduled to meet town officials in the upcoming weeks, Llodra said. She is also meeting with the affected teachers in the temporary school.
Authorities have not offered a motive for the attack. The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother before driving to the school. He shot himself dead following the rampage.
(Editing by James Kelleher and Philip Barbara)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 13 Jan 2013 06:34 PM PST
CARACAS (Reuters) - Cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's lung infection has been controlled and his medical state is improving more than a month after his latest surgery in Cuba, the government said on Sunday.
"Despite his delicate state ... in recent days the general medical evolution has been favourable," said the latest official health update, which was relatively positive compared to others but still illustrated the gravity of Chavez's situation.
"The respiratory infection is controlled, though the commander-president still requires specific measures to solve breathing insufficiency ... he is conscious."
The communiquÃ©, which gave no more details on his condition, came as the three most powerful government figures after Chavez gathered in Havana to check on him and meet with Cuban allies.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, Congress head Diosdado Cabello, and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez have been shuttling to and from Cuba since the 58-year-old socialist president's fourth and most serious cancer operation a month ago.
Chavez, who missed his own inauguration for a new, six-year term last week, has not been seen or heard from in public since the surgery. Many Venezuelans are assuming his momentous 14-year rule of the South American OPEC nation could be nearing an end.
"We are all Chavez!" and "Chavez will return!" were among slogans sang and chanted at numerous solidarity rallies, meetings and concerts across Venezuela over the weekend, which drew thousands of passionate and anxious supporters.
'BATTLING FOR LIFE'
Venezuelan state TV on Sunday even split its screen into four to show events going on around the nation.
"The situation is complex and delicate," Elias Jaua, a former vice-president and ally of Chavez, told one rally.
"He continues battling for his life."
Villegas said Maduro, whom Chavez has designated his successor, informed his boss of the outpouring at home.
State media said Maduro, Cabello, Ramirez - who also heads the powerful state oil company PDVSA - and Attorney General Cilia Flores all met Cuban President Raul Castro over the weekend. But there were no details of the talks.
The joint presence of top Venezuelan officials in Havana inevitably deepens rumours that Chavez is at death's door - and draws opposition criticism that Raul and Fidel Castro are giving instructions behind the scenes.
"We know which commander is giving the orders to Chavista leaders," opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado tweeted sarcastically, in a reference to the Cuban president.
Officials have been lashing "necrophilic" opponents for such criticism, and Chavez's brother said on Saturday that he was improving daily and not in a coma as rumoured.
Another opposition leader, Julio Borges, said the secrecy around Chavez's precise condition was unacceptable.
"No one is asking for details of the operation or the president's treatment, but that simply they tell the truth about his health prognosis," said Borges, a right-wing legislator who wants Chavez formally declared absent from office.
OPPOSITION DECRIES NATIONAL 'PARALYSIS'
That would trigger the naming of a caretaker president, and an election within a month. But Venezuela's Supreme Court has ratified that Chavez remains president with Maduro in charge as No. 2 until Chavez's health situation is clarified.
"It's been a year-and-a-half of contradictions and announcements of his complete curing followed by relapses," Borges added, saying problems like inflation, housing shortages and power-cuts were being neglected during a political impasse.
Since the disease was discovered in mid-2011, Chavez has wrongly declared himself cured twice, in an extraordinary and unsettling saga for Venezuela's 29 million people.
The stakes are high for the wider region too. Cuba and a handful of other leftist-ruled nations have for years been depending on Chavez's aid to bolster fragile economies.
Should Chavez die or be incapacitated, the most likely next step would be an election pitting Maduro, 50, against Henrique Capriles, 40, the main opposition leader who lost to Chavez in an October presidential election.
In an opinion column on Sunday, Capriles railed against the "national paralysis" but said the opposition would not be drawn into confrontation or street protests. That tactic failed spectacularly for them a decade ago when Chavez was briefly toppled but came back stronger than before.
"Just as the president has the right to attend his ill health, so Venezuelans do not deserve urgent problems to be put on hold," Capriles said. "We are not going to play the game of calling people onto the street to create a confrontation that will benefit the violent and radical ones."
(Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Mario Naranjo.; Editing by Christopher Wilson)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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