Isnin, 20 Januari 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Tokyo pushing ahead with U.S. base relocation plan despite election loss

Posted: 20 Jan 2014 09:10 PM PST

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo is pushing ahead with plans to relocate a controversial U.S. base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, despite the weekend re-election of a mayor strongly opposed to the move, and on Tuesday invited tenders for the first stage of work.

Delays in relocating the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base, a move first agreed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996, have long been an irritant in U.S.-Japan ties.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to make progress on the project as he seeks tighter ties with the United States in the face of an assertive China.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Tuesday that bids for the first phase of construction, a landfill project, were now open.

"We are thinking that we want to proceed with the relocation as smoothly as possible," he added.

Susumu Inamine, a staunch opponent of the relocation, was re-elected mayor of the Okinawa city of Nago, defeating an opponent who backed the project and ran with the strong support of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His win is a potential headache for Abe and may cause friction with Washington.

"The plan must go back to square one," Inamine told reporters on Sunday. "I will reject all procedures that are premised on the landfill project."

Last month, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved a plan to move Futenma's functions from a populous part of central Okinawa to Nago's coastal Henoko area.

Preparations for any relocation, such as surveying, could take a year, with the first relocation work starting after that. Japanese media says the government hopes to begin this in 2015, but Inamine's election could cause delays.

Seeking to soothe discontent, Abe's government earmarked 348 billion yen ($3.34 billion) for Okinawa's economic development in the draft budget for the year from April and pledged about 300 billion yen per year through 2021/22.

Abe also promised to study whether the relocation plan could be speeded up and said the government would start talks with the United States on a deal that could allow for more oversight of environmental issues at U.S. bases.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Editing by Michael Perry)

Pakistan bombs militant hideouts in tribal area after Taliban attacks

Posted: 20 Jan 2014 09:05 PM PST

PESHAWAR/DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan fighter jets bombed suspected Taliban hideouts in a tribal area on the Afghan border on Tuesday after a wave of insurgent attacks against security forces, sending villagers fleeing from their homes, military sources and residents said.

It was the first time the air force has resorted to aerial strikes in the region since it struck a ceasefire agreement with local Taliban chiefs in 2007.

Residents of North Waziristan, a lawless mountainous region where many al Qaeda-linked militants are based, said there were numerous civilian casualties but the army was not immediately available to comment on the operation.

"Can you hear the noise of the gunships? They are just over our heads," Haji Jamaludin, a local resident, told Reuters by telephone from the area. "Everyone in the village is running around with children and women looking for a safe place to hide."

The air strikes took place as pressure grows on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher action against the Taliban

following the attacks.

The Pakistani Taliban are fighting to topple the central government in Islamabad and impose strict Islamic rule in the nuclear armed South Asian nation.

Sparking speculation that a military operation was imminent, Sharif cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos on Sunday following a Taliban attack on an army convoy in which 20 soldiers were killed.

"This hadn't been planned before, and Pakistan air force fighter jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces," said one military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Military officials said fighter jets were targeting only militant positions around the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. Following a wave of fighter jets strikes, the army later called in helicopter gunships to shell suspected hideouts.

Residents said bombardment started overnight without any warning. Tribal elder Malik Jan Mohammad in the Mir Ali area said 15 people were killed. A Taliban source put the death toll at 27, including civilians.

"We were all asleep when the planes started bombing the village," said Khyal Zaman, a tribesman from the village of Esori.

"We had no idea what happened in the dark and those who survived came out of their homes in desperation along with children and started walking away into the open."

Sharif, who came to power promising to make peace with the Taliban though talks and not military action, has been under growing pressure both from the United States and hawks in the Pakistani army to do more to crush the insurgency.

No meaningful talks have taken place for years. The death of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a November drone strike has further enraged the Taliban, with its new leader, Mullah Fazlullah, vowing to step up his campaign against the army.

(Writiing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Honduras OKs breakup of state power firm, to allow private investment

Posted: 20 Jan 2014 09:00 PM PST

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras' Congress on Monday approved a breakup of the country's state-controlled electricity producer, allowing private interests to invest in the semi-shuttered industry in an effort to stem the company's losses and revitalize the ailing sector.

ENEE, as the company is known, currently generates electricity and also buys from independent producers. But the state-subsidised firm has faced losses of roughly $200 million a year, preventing it from investing in new projects.

"This legislation allows the participation of private actors in all of the electricity market to drive investment in the sector and respond to the demand for electricity that is key to the development of this country," Emil Hawit, ENEE's director, told reporters.

Under the terms of the legislation, backed by 95 of the country's 128 lawmakers, ENEE will be broken into three separate companies - for generation, transmission and distribution - which will be open to private investors.

It was not immediately clear how much would be opened up, but the government would maintain a minority stake. The breakup must occur by July 1, 2015, at the latest, under the legislation.

Preliminary figures showed Honduras ended 2013 with a fiscal deficit of nearly 8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), and many analysts had expected the government to partly privatise the loss-making ENEE to help close that gap.

Last week, Honduras' Congress approved a 2014 budget that seeks to nearly halve the deficit, bringing it down to 4.7 percent of GDP by the end of this year.

Until now, private investors have only been allowed to produce electricity that they must then sell back to ENEE.

The company produces just over 400 megawatts a year through its hydroelectric and geothermal plants, with the rest of the country's energy needs footed by independent producers.

(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Ken Wills)


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