Khamis, 13 Mac 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Knife-wielding assailants attack people in central China - Xinhua

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 09:20 PM PDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - Knife-wielding assailants attacked civilians on a street in the central Chinese city of Changsha on Friday morning, state news agency Xinhua said, citing local authorities.

Xinhua said its reporters saw at least one body lying on the ground at the scene.

Photos on microblogs showed at least four bodies on a street outside a school and police taking a suspect into custody. The authenticity of the photos could not be immediately confirmed.

Xinhua did not make clear who was responsible for the attack in the city, capital of Hunan province.

The incident happened just two weeks after a deadly stabbing attack at a Chinese train station in the southwestern city of Kunming which killed 29 people and injured about 140.

The government blamed that attack on militants from the western region of Xinjiang, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority. Many Uighurs say they are infuriated by Chinese curbs on their culture and religion, though the government says they are given wide freedoms.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Li Hui; Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Paul Tait)

Japan's Abe says won't alter 1993 apology on 'comfort women'

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 07:50 PM PDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that his government would not revise a landmark 1993 apology to women, many Korean, forced to serve in wartime military brothels, as Washington presses for better ties between its two Asian allies.

Japan's ties with South Korea are frayed by a territorial row and the legacy of its 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula, including the issue of compensation and an apology to women, known euphemistically in Japan as "comfort women", forced to serve in military brothels before and during World War Two.

South Korea and China were outraged by signs that Abe's government might water down the apology, issued by then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, which recognised the involvement of Japanese authorities in coercing the women to work in the military brothels - a point many conservative Japanese dispute.

Nationalist politicians have been urging the government to revise the apology, arguing there is no evidence of large-scale coercion by government authorities or the military.

"With regard to the 'comfort women' issue, I am deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, a feeling I share equally with my predecessors," Abe told a parliamentary panel.

"The Kono Statement addresses this issue ... and, as my Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated in news conferences, the Abe Cabinet has no intention to review it."

Abe also said his government adhered to the positions stated by past governments on history, including the 1995 apology for suffering caused by the war given by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama.

"We must be humble regarding history," he said. "Issues regarding history should not be politicised or made diplomatic issues. I think that research on history should be left in the hands of intellectuals and experts."

Japan's already strained ties with both South Korea and China worsened further after Abe paid his respects in December at Yasukuni Shrine, where wartime leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals are honoured along with war dead.

Under pressure to improve ties with Seoul ahead of an April visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, Tokyo has been trying to arrange a summit between Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Obama on the sidelines of a global nuclear-security summit in the Hague, Netherlands, on March 24-25.

A South Korean government official said earlier this week, however, that no progress was likely unless Japan made further efforts to resolve frictions stemming from Japan's wartime past.

And on Thursday, South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Cho Tai-young told a news briefing: "We have no reason to refuse dialogue with Japan if Japan shows that it has changed and creates the right conditions that would make constructive dialogue possible."

Japan has been sending mixed messages on the Kono Statement, announcing that it would review the circumstances behind the apology, but adding that it would not rescind the statement.

Abe himself sparked controversy during his first 2006-2007 term by saying there was no proof Japan's military had kidnapped women for the brothels.

Japan says the matter of compensation for 'comfort women' was settled under a 1965 treaty establishing diplomatic ties. In 1995, Japan set up a fund to make payments to the women from private contributions, but South Korea says that was not official and therefore, insufficient.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Tank-commanding cartoon girls capture fans for Japan's military

Posted: 13 Mar 2014 07:45 PM PDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Being a soldier in Japan after World War Two was seen as a job for failed police recruits and unemployed youth from depressed rural towns. But as tension with China chips away at Japan's post-war pacifism, the military is regaining its prestige - helped by a blitz of television dramas, movies and cartoons.

Patriotic zeal is now a more compelling reason to enlist. A decade ago, around one in 10 candidates said they wanted to be a soldier for love of country. These days it's closer to one in three, according to recruitment data obtained by Reuters.

Film directors, animators and TV producers have delivered a bumper crop of military-themed content, much of it with help from the Ministry of Defense.

Hit shows include "Girls und Panzer", a cartoon about schoolgirls fighting tank battles, and "Eternal Zero", a movie about a kamikaze pilot that its director made in part to counter an image of Japanese soldiers as fanatics.

The military's attempt to emerge from decades in the shadows is in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's more nationalistic tone and a less apologetic diplomacy.

Making the military cool is important for Abe's drive to increase defence spending after years of cuts. But even a soft-power approach to boosting defence risks inflaming tensions with neighbours who still have strong memories of Japan's aggression.

"It's our job to explain to the Japanese people why we have to raise the Self-Defense Force budget," said Hirokazu Mihara, the head of public relations at the Defense Ministry. "We need to have as close a relationship with them as possible."

That relationship is getting tighter.

Reflecting the praise the Self-Defense Force (SDF) won for its rescue efforts after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, a government survey in 2012 showed that 91.7 percent of respondents expressed a favourable opinion of the military, the highest level since the survey began in 1969.


Escalating tension with China over maritime borders and the threat from North Korean missiles have ensured the military's place in the media spotlight.

"When I was at school, feelings about the war were strong and anti-military feeling was high," said Yutaka Takaku, editor of Mamoru, the Defense Ministry's official magazine. "That allergy is going. People realise a military is necessary."

The growing popularity of soldiers as potential husbands prompted Takaku to begin a dating feature that introduces three single men from the navy, airforce or army every month.

Each issue also has a popular female model on its cover to draw in men. In December it was Mai Fuchigami, the voice of one of the lead characters in "Girls und Panzer".

The TV series, which ran last year, featured the girls commanding old and modern tanks accurately drawn to scale. To get those details right, staff from Bandai Visual, an animation unit of computer game maker Namco Bandai, were granted access to the army's tank school and other SDF bases.

The girls are never hurt in the cartoon battles, protected by a special "carbon lining" in their tanks.

"We have presented it like a sports tournament. A real battle would mean people dying," said producer Kiyoshi Sugiyama.

Bandai, which will release a "Girls und Panzer" movie this year, has also collaborated with, put out a mobile social game in Japan and plans to sell a game for Sony Corp's PSP Vita handheld console.

The cartoon, Sugiyama said, was not made to promote the military but as a venture to make money for Bandai. Nonetheless, the girls and their tanks have reinforced the military's public relations, with copycat characters used in recruitment posters.

At the army's annual live-fire exercises last August, a record 110,000 people applied for less than 6,000 public seats, many of them fans of the cartoon.


Cute images have long been used by Japan's military but it has become even more "warm and fuzzy" to appeal to young people, said Sabinne Fruhstuck, professor of Modern Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"The military has, along with other governmental agencies and corporations, finally discovered the power of popular culture. Thus those tank girls," said Fruhstuck, who wrote "Uneasy Warriors", a 2007 book about the Japanese army.

But the popularity of the armed forces may not translate into greater public backing for military action, she said.

The military's appetite for publicity prompted it to lend a missile destroyer to Takashi Yamazaki, the director of "Eternal Zero", for a day. The footage he took helped generate computer images of a wartime aircraft carrier.

"If you approach the SDF with a proposal that is going to make them look bad then you won't get anywhere," he said. "But if it benefits both sides then they are ready to cooperate."

Yamazaki's movie led box office returns at the end of last year. The tale of a kamikaze pilot moved prime minister Abe to tears, according to media reports.

The resurgent role of the military and the prospect of changes to Japan's pacificist constitution have alarmed its Chinese and Korean neighbours.

Naoki Hyakuta, author of a 2006 book on which "Eternal Zero" was based and an Abe-appointed member of state broadcaster NHK's board, further fuelled those concerns in February.

In a speech backing Toshio Tamogami, a right-wing candidate in elections for Tokyo's governor, Hyakuta denied the Nanjing Massacre ever happened. China says 300,000 people were killed.

Other backers of Tamogami, who won 12 percent of the vote in Tokyo, are also looking to transform wartime history.

Satoru Mizushima, the head of right-wing Internet TV service Channel Sakura, welcomes the higher profile of the military as "a return to normality". Japan's decision to go to war, he argues, inspired Asian nations to throw off Western imperialism.

"The question is who is going to contain the fascist regime in China and it looks like it is down to Japan," said Mizushima.

Yamazaki, the "Eternal Zero" director, also wants to revise history lessons, albeit in a milder way.

"The education we received after the war was one sided," he said. "That doesn't mean we have to flip to the other side but we need to think how we can achieve a middle road."

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)


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