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The Star Online: World Updates

U.S., eyeing N.Korea, to send more missile defence ships to Japan

Posted: 05 Apr 2014 07:35 PM PDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States will deploy two additional destroyers equipped with missile defence systems to Japan by 2017, in a move Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday was a response in part to North Korean missile launches that have alarmed the region.

Tensions have been building between North Korea and its neighbours since Pyongyang - in an apparent show of defiance - fired two Rodong missiles on March 26, just as the leaders of Japan, South Korea and the United States were sitting down to discuss containing the North Korean nuclear threat.

"In response to Pyongyang's pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions ... I can announce today that the United States is planning to forward-deploy two additional AEGIS ballistic missile defence ships to Japan," Hagel said at a news conference at Japan's defence ministry.

The move will bring America's Japan-based fleet of ballistic missile defence capable ships to seven.

Pyongyang's firing of mid-range missiles capable of hitting Japan followed a series of short-range rocket launches over the past two months. The Rodong ballistic missiles fell into the sea after flying 650 km (400 miles), short of a maximum range thought to be some 1,300 km, Japan said.

Since then, North Korea has fired artillery rounds into South Korean waters, prompting the South to fire back; South Korea has test-fired a new ballistic missile with a range of 500 km; and Pyongyang has threatened an unspecified "new form" of nuclear test.

"This move to significantly bolster our naval presence is another action that strengthens our alliance and increases deterrence against North Korean aggression," Hagel said.

Hagel said that the U.S. deployment of additional destroyers followed his decision last year to position a second X-band missile defence radar in Japan. That radar is expected to become operational this year.

It also follows his decision to increase ground-base missile defences in Alaska.

"These steps will greatly enhance our ability to defend both Japan and the U.S. homeland from North Korean ballistic missile threats," Hagel said.

(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Editing by Michael Urquhart)

Advisers to India's Modi dream of a Thatcherite revolution

Posted: 05 Apr 2014 07:25 PM PDT

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - When Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi gave a speech on the virtues of smaller government and privatisation on April 8 last year, supporters called him an ideological heir to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died that day.

Modi, favourite to form India's next government after elections starting on Monday, has yet to unveil any detailed economic plans but it is clear that some of his closest advisers and campaign managers have a Thatcherite ambition for him.

"If you define Thatcherism as less government, free enterprise, then there is no difference between Modi-nomics and Thatcherism," said Deepak Kanth, a London-based banker now collecting funds as a volunteer for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kanth, who says he is on the economic right, is one of several hundred volunteers with a similar philosophy working for Modi in campaign war-rooms across the country. Among them are alumni of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan trading floors.

"What Thatcher did with financial market reforms, you can expect a similar thing with infrastructure in India under Modi," he said, referring to Thatcher's trademark "Big Bang" of sudden financial deregulation in 1986.

Modi's inner circle also includes prominent economists and industrialists who share a desire to see his BJP draw a line under decades of socialist economics, cut welfare and reduce the role of government in business.

The BJP is due to unveil detailed economic plans on Monday and is expected to make populist pledges to create a massive number of manufacturing jobs and to restart India's stalled $1 trillion infrastructure development programme.

But conversations with top policy advisers to Modi suggest an agenda that goes further than the upcoming campaign manifesto, including plans to overhaul national welfare programmes. There is also a fierce debate inside his team about privatising some flagship state-run firms, including loss-making Air India.

Bibek Debroy, a prominent Indian economist speaking for the first time about his role advising Modi during the campaign, told Reuters the Hindu nationalist leader shared his market-driven policy platform and opposed handouts.

"It is essentially a belief that people don't need doles, and don't need subsidies," Debroy said. Instead, the government should focus on building infrastructure to ease poverty, he said.


Modi's office did not respond to requests for comment on this article. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, the man tipped to be the finance minister in a Modi cabinet, said the party would not do away with welfare programmes entirely.

"I don't want to immediately comment on what we will do with each one of them," Jaitley said. "India will need some poverty alleviation schemes, at least in the immediate future, but you could link those schemes with some asset creation."

How far Modi can go down this road if elected will depend on allies in what is likely to be a coalition government. In the last big poll ahead of the election, the BJP was forecast to end up as the single largest party but fall short of an outright majority.

But merely the possibility that India may move to the right has brought flocks of free-market champions home from high-flying careers abroad to join Modi's campaign.

Two advisers involved in policy discussions within the BJP's top leadership said partial or total privatisations of Air India and other failing public sector enterprises were being debated.

"We don't foresee any problems in selling a stake in Air India. It is one of those low-hanging fruit," said one of the economic policy advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another privatisation target could be mammoth Coal India, the source of much of the country's electricity generation, but that is a more complex task, they said.

Possible opposition by allies in government and India's strong labour laws mean that some of these policies will take time.

"If you say is it going to happen in 2014-15, is the finance minister going to stand up and announce privatisation, I'm inclined to think no, but will it figure eventually? The answer is yes," said Debroy, author of a book on the economy of Gujarat, the western Indian state Modi has governed for more than a decade.

When asked about the possible privatisation of Air India, Jaitley said only that it was a difficult issue.


An attack on welfare would mark an ideological shift.

Although India adopted free-market reforms 20 years ago, the man responsible for them, current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has refocused on redistribution of wealth in recent years under the influence of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.

The battle of ideas between Modi and the ruling Congress party was mirrored in a public spat between two well-known economists of Indian origin, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Columbia University's Jagdish Bhagwati.

Sen's belief that public spending on food subsidies and health was needed to end poverty was adopted by Gandhi. The result was a proliferation of welfare schemes, most notably a rural work programme and a giant subsidised food plan.

Modi's economic thinking is closer to Bhagwati, who strongly advocates poverty reduction through deregulation-led growth. Bhagwati's colleague and writing partner, Arvind Panagariya, a former chief economist at the Asian Development Bank, is tipped by some in the BJP for a role in any Modi government.

The Congress party's rural job scheme is credited with lifting rural wages and reducing migration to cities. But critics, including Panagariya, believe the jobs it created - such as maintaining irrigation ponds and village roads - were unproductive.

These ideas have found traction in Modi's circle of advisers, who propose tying such programmes to skills training and putting employees to work on building highways or sanitation projects.

Others in the group propose doing away altogether with dozens of centrally funded programmes.

The parallels with Thatcher don't end with economics.

Like her, Modi is a small-town outsider to the capital's political circles and has a reputation for riding roughshod over opponents, who often pillory him as authoritarian. In Gujarat, critics say he runs a one-man government.

For better or for worse, many Indians fed up with years of weak leadership, find that no-nonsense image part of his appeal.

"We need action, a do-er," said Kanth. "We have seen enough of pussyfooting in the last 10 years."

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Bendeich)

Victims of U.S. mudslide are remembered in first funeral services

Posted: 05 Apr 2014 06:35 PM PDT

ARLINGTON, Washington (Reuters) - A school custodian killed in Washington state's mudslide was described as a tough-minded animal lover on Saturday and a popular librarian was memorialized, as mourners gathered in the first of a series of services for the over two dozen dead.

The funerals came two weeks after the disaster that left at least 30 people dead, even as searchers look for more bodies.

About 250 people crammed into a golf course clubhouse in Arlington, Washington, for the funeral of Summer Raffo, 36, a school custodian and specialist in hoof care for horses, just a few miles from the site where a torrent of mud swept her car off Highway 530 on March 22.

Raffo, the fifth of 14 siblings, was later pulled from the vehicle by a brother.

"She was tough, with so many brothers," Barak Pearson, who led her funeral service, told mourners. He described her as shy, but a loyal friend.

"She liked to be outdoors," he said. "She loved animals. She was hardworking. She was dependable."

Another service was held in nearby Darrington for Linda McPherson, 69, who was found dead in the debris of her home. Her husband survived when the mudslide engulfed the dwelling along with about three dozen other properties on the outskirts of the community of Oso, which lies in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle.

As the town's longtime head librarian, she played a key role in educating thousands of children through the years, said Peter Selvig, who served with her on the Darrington School Board.

"She was a sweet, mellow, gentle woman," Selvig said.

In all, three individual memorial services were being held on Saturday and services for more victims were set for Sunday.


Of the 30 people confirmed dead by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office, all but one have been identified, officials said in a statement. Recovery crews were still searching for another 13 people still unaccounted for, but that figure could fluctuate as it has since the day of the disaster, officials said.

Roughly 450 people from 117 different organizations were helping the search efforts, officials said.

A community candlelight vigil was planned Saturday in Darrington and more than 300 people were expected to attend, said Michael Duncan, the pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church which was organizing the event.

"This is an opportunity to begin the healing process," Duncan said.

Over the next few days, funerals are planned for 5-year-old Kaylee Spillers, whose father and two siblings are among the dead and missing, and Alan Bejvl, 21, whose fiance, Delaney Webb, was also killed in the slide.

Recovery efforts have been hampered by rain creating treacherous conditions and raising the risk of further slides and flash floods. More rain and runoffs of melting mountain snow are forecast, with a quarter of an inch (6 mm) of precipitation expected on Sunday, before a two-week stretch of warm weather arrives on Monday which officials said will aid search efforts.

A team of volunteer veterinarians was rotating shifts on Saturday to tend to about 30 rescue dogs that have been deployed to help in the search for more victims.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture said it is deploying its "Reserve Veterinary Corps" for the first time. The group of 135 animal health specialists will treat dogs for minor cuts, hyperthermia and damaged pads, as well as decontaminate them after exposure to hazardous material and other pollutants in the debris field.

County officials are also organizing a "reunification" location and process so that survivors will be able to go to retrieve personal property recovered from the disaster site.


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