Rabu, 12 Februari 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

South Korea rejects North's demand for delay of joint drills with U.S.

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 08:35 PM PST

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has rejected a demand by its northern neighbour to postpone this month's military drills with the United States to avoid overlap with planned reunions of families separated during the Korean War, an official said on Thursday.

The demand, made at a rare high-level meeting on Wednesday between the North and South, raised the possibility that the family reunion event might be scuttled and deal a setback to weeks of confidence-building efforts by Seoul.

"North Korea persistently demanded the postponement of the joint exercise for two days where it overlaps the reunions," South Korea's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told parliament. "As far as we're concerned, it's impossible."

Ryoo is the South's top policymaker on the North.

The demand appears to be a step back by the North, which had called for the cancellation of the drills and is the latest example of conflicting signals from Pyongyang, which included an abrupt cancellation of an invitation for a U.S. envoy to visit.

The North says the drills are a rehearsal for war by the United States, despite consistent denials by Seoul and Washington, which say they are routine exercises.

South Korea's defence ministry said the drills would be held as scheduled later this month as troops and equipment have already started mobilizing and also on the grounds that legitimate defence activities should not be linked to a humanitarian event.

The two Koreas are scheduled to hold reunions of family members separated since the Korean War at the Mount Kumgang resort just inside the North.

Several lawmakers expressed concern that the North would once again scrap the reunions as it did in September. An expert on the North said it was too optimistic to expect the North was genuinely seeking reconciliation with the South.

"North Korea in the first place has no willingness to hold reunions and it looks likely to fall apart," said Lee Ji-sue of Myongji University in Seoul. "Even if it goes ahead, the reunions will end up being an one-off event."

The North has previously threatened to cancel the reunions, citing a sortie last week by a nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bomber near the Korean peninsula. The United States has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.

North Korea has cancelled an invitation for U.S. human rights envoy Robert King to visit Pyongyang to discuss the release of imprisoned U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae, which had been expected to come as early as this week.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

For South China Sea claimants, a legal venue to battle China

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 06:55 PM PST

HONG KONG (Reuters) - When Philippine President Benigno Aquino compared China to the Germany of 1938 and called for global support as his country battles Beijing's claims in the South China Sea, he put the focus on a case that Manila has filed in an international court.

The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea and its lawyers say that the tribunal has discretionary powers to allow other states to join the action.

China is refusing to participate and has already warned Vietnam against joining the case being heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, sources have said. Hanoi has so far kept its options open.

Any final ruling by the court on the dispute, one of the most tense flashpoints in Asia, cannot be enforced but will carry considerable moral and political weight, analysts say.

"If a large number of countries, including members of ASEAN, speak out in support of the application of international law to resolve disputes, Beijing might conclude that flouting the ruling of the tribunal is too costly, even if China's nine-dash line is found to be illegal," said Bonnie Glaser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups four of the claimants to the sea - Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam - and six other countries in the region.

China, and also Taiwan, claim much of the sea through a nine-dash line on Chinese maps that encompasses about 90 percent of its 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fisheries catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade each year.

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Aquino compared China's claims to Germany in 1938.

"At what point do you say, 'Enough is enough'? Well, the world has to say it — remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War 2," he said.

Beijing has called the comparison outrageous.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Daniel Russel, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, both voiced support last week for the Philippines' action in seeking a peaceful, lawful solution.

The U.S. comments came after increasingly assertive moves by China in the South China Sea in recent weeks.

"There is a growing concern that this pattern of behaviour in the South China Sea reflects an incremental effort by China to assert control over the area contained in the so-called "nine-dash line," despite the objections of its neighbours and despite the lack of any explanation or apparent basis under international law regarding the scope of the claim itself," Russel said in testimony to a congressional sub-committee.

The issue could also come up when Secretary of State John Kerry visits Beijing this week.


China's state media has reported a patrol by two destroyers and a large amphibious landing ship at the James Shoal - about 80 km (50 miles) off the coast of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

While Malaysia's navy chief denied the reports, China's official Xinhua news agency has since described how the ships have continued south, passing through Indonesia's strategic Lombok and Makassar straits to reach the Indian Ocean.

Official Chinese reports last month also announced the basing of a 5,000-tonne civilian patrol ship in the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by Vietnam.

Provincial authorities on the Chinese island of Hainan, meanwhile, have extended fishing restrictions into international waters - a step that sparked protests from Hanoi and Manila.

Despite the lack of physical opposition to its moves, China appears to be wary about the proceedings in the court at The Hague.

Chinese officials have warned Hanoi against joining the case, Vietnamese officials have privately said.

Carl Thayer, a South China Sea expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, said he had been told by Vietnamese officials that one such warning was delivered by Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a visit to Hanoi last September.

"Vietnam has so far stood up to the pressure and clearly reserved the right to take any step if it feels its national interests are at stake," Thayer said.

Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam's Foreign Ministry, did not comment directly on Chinese pressure, including specific warnings from Wang, but told Reuters that Hanoi was closely monitoring Manila's legal moves.

When asked whether Hanoi had decided on whether it would take part in the case, Nghi pointed to previous statements that Vietnam would apply "all necessary and appropriate peaceful means" to protect its sovereignty and national interests.

Other Vietnamese officials said while it was unlikely Hanoi would join the case given its close but complex relationship with China, they were scrutinising developments closely, including talking to foreign legal experts.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated China's objections to the Philippines' action and said China and Vietnam had reached an "important consensus" over how to resolve the South China Sea dispute.

"We are willing to maintain close touch with Vietnam and co-ordinate with them, to resolve the issue via friendly talks and consultation."

Manila's five U.S. and British lawyers are finalising submissions to be put to the court before a March 30 deadline to show that China's "nine-dash line" claim is invalid under the Law of the Sea.

Philippines' lead counsel Paul Reichler, a Washington-based lawyer with the law firm Foley Hoag, said the arbitration tribunal had adopted rules that effectively allowed other states to apply to intervene.

While no one had yet stepped forward "there is still plenty of time to do so," he told Reuters.

A copy of the rules obtained from the court by Reuters last week does not mention third country interventions but gives the tribunal judges the power to decide on outside issues not covered by the document.

Clive Schofield, a legal expert at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong, said the wording of the rules allowed for considerable leeway.

"I do not believe that either one of the parties can block (third country) submissions should the tribunal members deem them to be helpful in determining the outcome of the case," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Manuel Mogato in MANILA and Stuart Grudgings in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

At least three killed by gunfire at Venezuela protests

Posted: 12 Feb 2014 06:00 PM PST

CARACAS (Reuters) - At least three people were shot dead on Wednesday during anti-government protests in Caracas, escalating the worst bout of unrest in Venezuela since turmoil after President Nicolas Maduro's election last year.

The violence was a crescendo to weeks of sporadic demonstrations in the provinces led by opposition hardliners who denounce Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages and vow to push him from office.

The government says the opposition is sowing violence to stage a coup similar to the one a decade ago that briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, though there are few signs that the current melees could topple Maduro.

The country's top prosecutor confirmed the death of a student and a pro-government community leader amid chaotic scenes as marches by opposition and government sympathizers ended just a few blocks apart in the city centre.

Maduro said another student suffered serious brain damage and was in critical condition after being shot in the head.

"This violent group had failed until now in their attempts to fill Venezuela with death and blood," Maduro said in a speech outside Caracas to commemorate an independence-era battle.

"Today we lament the death of two young Venezuelans."

Reuters reporters on the scene heard gunshots and saw one man carried away dead with blood gushing from his head.

Twenty-three people were injured, 25 arrested, four police vehicles burnt, and some government offices vandalized in violence throughout the day, officials said.

The mayor of stridently opposition municipality of Chacao, in the east of the city, said on Twitter that a third person had been shot dead in his district.

Social networks quickly fell into a familiar pattern of recriminations, with both sides blaming the other based on little clear information about what had happened.

Opposition activists said armed government supporters belonging to hardline groups known as "colectivos" had fired on the peaceful march. Government officials pinned the deaths on "fascists" who they said had planned violence from the start.


As night fell, soldiers fired tear gas at several hundred young demonstrators who burned tires and blocked the main avenue of Chacao, where the third death occurred.

"We're staying in the streets until this government falls," said student Jose Jimenez, 22, protesting in Chacao with a shirt tied round his face to protect him from tear gas.

In 2002, opposition leaders began what would become years of constant protests as part of failed efforts to oust the late Chavez, which included a bungled coup, a two-month oil industry shutdown and an unsuccessful recall referendum.

"They cannot take us back to the scenes of 2002," Maduro said during a speech before the shooting broke out.

Sporadic political protests of varying intensity have been common over the last decade, but they frequently fizzle out within several days as citizens grow weary of blocked streets and the smell of burning debris.

Hardline opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, a photogenic U.S.-educated former mayor, has led a renewed wave of demonstrations over the last two weeks under the banner "The Exit," in reference to Maduro's departure.

He is seeking to tap into the frustration of Maduro's critics who say state institutions including courts and the electoral council are so controlled by the ruling Socialist Party as to make democracy impossible.

"This movement of people in the streets is going to grow. It's like a wave that will keep growing," Lopez told a Colombian television station.


The opposition rallied around state governor Henrique Capriles last year after he staged a better-than-expected showing against Maduro in the April election to replace Chavez, but has since stepped out of the limelight to focus on local issues.

Wednesday's violence may formally mark a widening rift between hardliners and those who favour returning to bread-and-butter issues such as sporadic trash collection, filthy streets and pot-holed highways.

Opposition moderates note that their biggest successes, such as turning pro-Chavez strongholds into opposition territory, resulted from leaders stepping away from theatrical street protests to focus on voters' concerns.

The constant protests have also helped the government cement an image of the opposition as saboteurs. Many are wary of being cast in that light again.

"While there are plenty of reasons to protest, there does not seem to be an agenda for the current wave. #LaSalida (The Exit) is not a strategy. It's a hashtag!" complained the anti-government blog Caracas Chronicles.

"The street protests, along with the public bickering they are engendering, are creating a false sense that our actions can undo the regime."

(Additional reporting by Caracas bureau reporters; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Brian Ellsworth, Kieran Murray and Lisa Shumaker)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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