- Cuban leader Raul Castro announces he will retire in 2018
- South Korea's new president demands North drop nuclear ambitions
- Afghan president to expel U.S. special forces from key province
Posted: 24 Feb 2013 07:47 PM PST
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Sunday he will step down from power after his second term ends in 2018, and the new parliament named a 52-year-old rising star to become his first vice president and most visible successor.
"This will be my last term," Castro, 81, said shortly after the National Assembly elected him to a second five-year tenure.
In a surprise move, the new parliament also named Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice president, meaning he would take over if Castro cannot serve his full term.
Diaz-Canel is a member of the political bureau who rose through the Communist Party ranks in the provinces to become the most visible possible successor to Castro.
Raul Castro starts his second term immediately, leaving him free to retire in 2018, aged 86.
Former President Fidel Castro joined the National Assembly meeting on Sunday, in a rare public appearance. Since falling ill in 2006 and ceding the presidency to his brother, the elder Castro, 86, has given up official positions except as a deputy in the National Assembly.
The new government will almost certainly be the last headed up by the Castro brothers and their generation of leaders who have ruled Cuba since they swept down from the mountains in the 1959 revolution.
Cubans and foreign governments were keenly watching whether any new, younger faces appeared among the Council of State members, in particular its first vice president and five vice presidents.
Their hopes were partially fulfilled with Diaz-Canel's ascension. He replaces former first vice president, Jose Machado Ventura, 82, who will continue as one of five vice presidents.
Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdes, 80, and Gladys Bejerano, 66, the comptroller general, were also re-elected as vice presidents.
Two other newcomers, Mercedes Lopez Acea, 48, first secretary of the Havana communist party, and Salvador Valdes Mesa, 64, head of the official labour federation, also earned vice presidential slots.
Esteban Lazo, a 68-year-old former vice president and member of the political bureau of the Communist Party, left his post upon being named president of the National Assembly on Sunday. He replaced Ricardo Alarcon, who served in the job for 20 years.
Six of the Council's top seven members sit on the party's political bureau which is also lead by Castro.
Castro's announcement came as little surprise to Cuban exiles in Miami.
"It's no big news. It would have been big news if he resigned today and called for democratic elections," said Alfredo Duran, a Cuban-American lawyer and moderate exile leader in Miami who supports lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. "I wasn't worried about him being around after 2018," he added.
The National Assembly meets for just a few weeks each year and delegates its legislative powers between sessions to the 31-member Council of State, which also functions as the executive through the Council of Ministers it appoints.
Eighty percent of the 612 deputies, who were elected in an uncontested vote February 3, were born after the revolution.
EFFORT TO PROMOTE YOUNGER GENERATION
Raul Castro, who officially replaced his ailing brother as president in 2008, has repeatedly said senior leaders should hold office for no more than two five-year terms.
"Although we kept on trying to promote young people to senior positions, life proved that we did not always make the best choice," Castro said at a Communist Party Congress in 2011.
"Today, we are faced with the consequences of not having a reserve of well-trained replacements ... It's really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century."
Speaking on Sunday, Castro hailed the composition of the new Council of State as an example of what he had said needed to be accomplished.
"Of the 31 members, 41.9 percent are women and 38.6 percent are black or of mixed race. The average age is 57 years and 61.3 percent were born after the triumph of the revolution," he said.
The 2011 party summit adopted a more than 300-point plan aimed at updating Cuba's Soviet-style economic system, designed to transform it from one based on collective production and consumption to one where individual effort and reward play a far more important role.
Across-the-board subsidies are being replaced by a comprehensive tax code and targeted welfare.
Raul Castro has encouraged small businesses and cooperatives in retail services, farming, minor manufacturing and retail, and given more autonomy to state companies which still dominate the economy.
The party plan also includes an opening to more foreign investment.
At the same time, Cuba continues to face a U.S. administration bent on restoring democracy and capitalism to the island and questions about the future largess of oil rich Venezuela with strategic ally Hugo Chavez battling cancer.
(Editing by Kieran Murray and Vicki Allen)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 24 Feb 2013 06:36 PM PST
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's new president Park Geun-hye urged North Korea on Monday to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and to stop wasting its scarce resources on arms, less than two weeks after the country carried out its third nuclear test.
In her inauguration speech, the country's first female president, also called on South Koreans to help revive the nation's export-dependent economy whose trade is threatened by neighbouring Japan's weak yen policy.
Park, the 61-year-old daughter of South Korea's former military ruler Park Chung-hee, met with the father of North Korea's current ruler in 2002 and offered the impoverished and isolated neighbour aid and trade if it abandoned its nuclear programme.
"I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development," Park said after being inaugurated on Monday.
Park, usually an austere and demure figure in her public appearances, wore an olive-drab military style jacket and lavender scarf on Monday and smiled broadly and waved enthusiastically as a 70,000 strong crowd cheered her.
Rap sensation Psy was one of the warm up acts on an early spring day outside the country's parliament and performed his "Gagnam Style" hit, but without some of the raunchier actions.
Park's tough stance was supported by the partisan and largely older crowd at her inauguration.
"I have trust in her as the first female president ... She has to be more aggressive on North Korea," said Jeong Byung-ok, 44, who was at the ceremony with her four-year-old daughter.
PARK FACES CHOICE: PAY OFF PYONGYANG OR ISOLATE NORTH
North Korea is ruled by 30-year-old Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to hold power in Pyongyang and the grandson of a man who tried to assassinate Park's father.
The North, which is facing further U.N. sanctions for its latest nuclear test, which was its biggest and most powerful to date, is unlikely to heed Park's call and there is little Seoul can do to influence its bellicose neighbour.
Park's choices boil down to paying off Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons plan, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and failed in 2006 when the North exploded its first nuclear bomb. Alternatively, Seoul could try to further isolate the North, a move that resulted in the 2010 sinking of a South Korean ship and the shelling of a South Korean island.
Referring to the fast economic growth under her father's rule, which drove war-torn South Korea from poverty to the ranks of the world's richest nations, Park urged Koreans to re-create the spirit of the "Miracle on the Han".
Park wants to create new jobs, in a country where young people often complain of a lack of opportunities, and boost welfare, although she hasn't spelled out how she will do either.
Growth in South Korea has fallen sharply since the days of Park's father who oversaw periods of 10 percent plus economic expansion. The Bank of Korea expects the economy to grow just 2.8 percent this year and 2.8 percent in 2014.
Park also faces a challenge from a resurgent Japan whose exports have risen sharply after new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on a policy to weaken the yen currency.
The won has jumped five percent in 2013 against the yen after a 23 percent gain in 2012, boosting the competitiveness of Japanese exports of cars and electronics against the same goods that South Korean firms produce.
Park last week said she would take "pre-emptive" action on the weak yen, but has yet to specify what action she will take.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by David Chance and Michael Perry)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 24 Feb 2013 06:21 PM PST
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given U.S. special forces two weeks to leave a key battleground province after accusations that Afghans working for them tortured and killed innocent people, the president's spokesman said on Sunday.
The decision by Karzai could further complicate negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan over the presence of Americans troops in the country once most NATO forces leave by the end of 2014.
Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said villagers in Wardak province had lodged a series of complaints about operations conducted by U.S. special forces and a group of Afghans working with them.
The decision was reached at a Sunday meeting of the Afghan National Security Council, chaired by Karzai, Faizi said.
"The Ministry of Defence was assigned to make sure all U.S. special forces are out of the province within two weeks," he said.
A statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said: "US Forces Afghanistan is aware of the reporting of Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi's comments today. We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them.
"But until we have had a chance to speak with senior Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials about this issue, we are not in a position to comment further."
Sunday's announcement came days after Karzai issued a decree banning all Afghan security forces from using NATO air strikes in residential areas, in a bid to curb civilian casualties.
That was in response to an operation in Kunar targeting four Taliban members which resulted in the deaths of ten civilians, including five children, during an air strike.
Karzai has long warned his Western backers that the killing of civilians could sap support for the foreign troops in the country and fuel the insurgency.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Washington bureau; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Stephen Powell and Paul Tait)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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