Selasa, 14 Januari 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Australia tightens secrecy over 'success' in blocking asylum seekers

Posted: 14 Jan 2014 09:20 PM PST

Canberra (Reuters) - Australia's government on Wednesday touted its success in deterring asylum seekers from arriving by boat, even as it moved to further restrict access to information about its secretive immigration policies.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said government activity, which is believed to include returning vessels intercepted by Australian authorities to Indonesia, had dramatically reduced the number of refugees risking the perilous journey.

At the same time, he said the government would maintain its refusal to comment on "operational matters" and go one step further by cancelling a weekly media briefing he had instituted last year to discuss so-called Operation Sovereign Borders.

"Arrival rates have been significantly arrested in recent months and the establishment phase of the operation has been concluded," Morrison told reporters.

He declined to confirm reports that the navy had in recent weeks forced the return of a number of boats to Indonesia, the main departure point for people-smuggling boats headed to Australia carrying would-be refugees from around the world.

The number of refugees reaching Australia pales in comparison with other countries but it is a polarising issue that also stokes tension with neighbour Indonesia over border policies criticised by the United Nations.

Morrison declined to provide any statistics for boat arrivals which have traditionally tended to ebb during the monsoon season, which usually ends in March.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's pledge to "stop the boats" was one of the central platforms of his successful election campaign last year.

Since coming into office, however, the government has cited "operational security" to dismiss questions about how it is tackling asylum seekers, including media reports this week of a hunger strike an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island.

Human rights groups have for years chronicled incidents of self-harm, hunger strikes and riots in Australia's detention centres.


Morrison confirmed that the government last month quietly made contract changes that protect navy personnel from individual criminal sanctions for any action taken under Operation Sovereign Borders, putting them on a similar footing to military personnel fighting a war.

The U.N. refugee agency has asked for information from the government, warning that Australia could be breaking international law if it is forcing boats back to Indonesia without proper regard for refugees' safety.

Abbott has himself likened the battle to stop the boats as a war, while claiming secrecy is important to prevent "the enemy" receiving information.

"In the end, we are in a fierce contest with these people-smugglers," Abbott said.

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who is in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders, confirmed reports that the navy had bought hard-top life boats for use in the mission.

Campbell declined, however, to confirm reports the vessels would be used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia, fuelling criticism from the opposition Labor Party.

"Tony Abbott promised to stop the boats, but all he's done is stop the briefings and hide the boats," Michelle Rowland, the opposition's spokeswoman for immigration, said in a statement.

(Editing by Jane Wardell and Robert Birsel)

Western spies contact Damascus to discuss security, Syria says

Posted: 14 Jan 2014 09:10 PM PST

DUBAI (Reuters) - The intelligence services of some Western countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have visited Damascus to discuss security cooperation with his government, Syria's deputy foreign minister said in remarks broadcast on Wednesday.

"I will not specify (which countries) but many of them have visited Damascus, yes," the deputy minister, Faisal Mekdad, said in an interview with the BBC.

Mekdad said that the contacts appeared to show a rift between the political and security authorities in some countries opposed to Assad.

Western powers have supported the opposition with rhetoric but have backed away from material aid as al Qaeda-linked groups take advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held regions.

Western countries are worried about the presence in rebel ranks of foreign Islamist militants who have travelled to Syria to join a near three-year-old struggle to topple Assad.

"Frankly speaking the spirit has changed," Mekdad added.

"When these countries ask us for security cooperation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leaderships."

Asked if he was confirming that British intelligence had been in contact with Syria, he declined a direct reply.

"I am saying that many of these countries have contacted us to coordinate security measures," he added.

Syria plunged into civil war after an uprising against four decades of Assad family rule erupted in March 2011 and descended into an armed insurgency after the army cracked down on protests.

(Reporting by William Maclean and Rania El Gamal, Editing by Eric Walsh)

Japan says it will approve Fukushima operator's revival plan

Posted: 14 Jan 2014 09:05 PM PST

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's trade ministry said it would approve on Wednesday a revival plan for the utility responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Co, its second attempt at restoring battered finances.

The plan hinges on Tokyo Electric (Tepco) restarting its Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant to cut fossil fuel costs, a contentious issue staunchly opposed by the local governor.

An earlier plan by Tepco outlining a revival after its Fukushima plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011, triggering triple meltdowns at the site, had to be torn up because it could not restart Kashiwazaki.

Japan's trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi is scheduled to meet Tepco president at 1700 JST on Wednesday to officially approve the plan.

Tepco is also pledging to cut costs by reducing fuel spending and forming partnerships with other utilities, as well as upgrading fossil fuel plants, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday. The company is majority owned by the government after an earlier bailout.

Tepco's previous revival plan revolved around a Kashiwazaki restart in early 2013. The new plan envisages a restart of two reactors at the station in July and the utility hopes all seven reactors will go online by fiscal 2016.

The disaster at Fukushima, the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 eventually brought about the halt of all nuclear power plants in Japan so they could be vetted under tougher new standards.

Opposition to atomic power remains strong in the country and is set to become a major issue in an election next month for governorship of metropolitan Tokyo, which owns a stake in Tepco.

Most candidates are opposed to restarting nuclear power plants and one, former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa has received the strong backing from Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan's most popular leaders, who ruled between 2001 and 2006.

In the nearly three years since the disaster, the utility has been plagued by a string of setbacks at the Fukushima station north of Tokyo, including leaks of highly radioactive water last year, prompting the government to step in with more support.

The local governor in Niigata, where Kashiwazaki is located, has been a vocal opponent of Tepco's management and has questioned whether the company has the ability to operate a nuclear station, following the failings in its preparation and response to the disaster. He has publicly called for the Tepco's liquidation.

Tepco is aiming to have all seven reactors at the Niigata plant, the world's biggest atomic station, operating by fiscal year 2016.

(Reporting by Mari Saito and Kentaro Hamada; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Jeremy Laurence)


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