- Pakistani premier to attend Indian PM-elect Modi's swearing-in
- Japan launches new satellite to survey disasters
- US suspends $3.5 million in military aid to Thailand
Posted: 24 May 2014 12:34 AM PDT
ISLAMABAD, May 24, 2014 (AFP) - Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif has accepted Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi's invitation to attend his swearing-in, his office said Saturday, in a bold diplomatic move aimed at mending strained ties.
Like all other heads of government from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which includes Pakistan, Sharif had also been formally invited by India this week.
"Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to visit India and attend the swearing-in of... Modi," his spokesman told AFP by telephone.
Modi will take the oath as prime minister on Monday, 10 days after his right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP scored a landslide victory, securing the first majority by a single party in 30 years.
Sharif, who is himself a centre-right leader, has hailed Modi's "impressive victory" and many diplomats hope the two men can thaw ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Posted: 24 May 2014 12:31 AM PDT
TOKYO, May 24, 2014 (AFP) - Japan successfully launched a new mapping satellite on Saturday that will be used to survey damage from natural disasters and changes affecting rainforests.
The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 (ALOS-2) will be able to see scars left by catastrophes such as Japan's 2011 tsunami as well as monitor progress made in reconstruction, officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.
"The satellite was successfully put in orbit," said an official from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, whose H-IIA rocket was used in the launch from a space centre on the southern island of Tanegashima.
The satellite will provide valuable data for Japan, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and experiences 20 percent of all major earthquakes.
Memories are still fresh of the deadly 9.0-magnitude earthquake in March 2011 that unleashed a tsunami that devastated the northern Pacific coast, killing more than 18,000 people and triggering the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The island nation is also routinely hit by typhoons while scientists say Mount Fuji could erupt at any time.
The new satellite, nicknamed "Daichi-2", will "conduct a health check mainly of the Earth's land areas in detail," JAXA project manager Shinichi Suzuki said.
The satellite will collect data related to deformation of the Earth's crust, but also the impact of floods and landslides, he said.
The satellite's predecessor was used to monitor damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The device uses a special radar to observe the planet's surface at night, during bad weather and even through vegetation.
JAXA plans to use the new satellite to regularly study tropical rain forests, which are difficult to observe because of the thick clouds that frequently cover them. It will also be used to observe snow and ice conditions in polar areas, officials said.
Posted: 24 May 2014 12:29 AM PDT
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2014 (AFP) - The United States Friday suspended $3.5 million in military assistance for Thailand, about one-third of its aid to the ally, and urged Americans to reconsider travel plans after the army seized power.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was also reviewing the rest of US aid to Thailand - which totaled some $10.5 million in 2013 - to look for further cuts.
"We have already suspended approximately $3.5 million" in funding and training for the Thai military, Harf told reporters.
"We are reviewing all programs to determine other assistance which we may suspend."
Harf said the United States was looking through its allocated funding for international bodies, including the 10-nation ASEAN bloc, to identify money directed to Thailand.
The United States has contacted junta leaders to deliver the message, Harf said.
"We urge the immediate restoration of civilian rule, a return to democracy and, obviously, respect for human rights during this period of uncertainty."
Under domestic law, the United States is obligated to suspend assistance to foreign militaries that overthrow elected governments.
In updated travel advice, the State Department recommended that US citizens "reconsider any non-essential travel to Thailand" due to the unrest and restrictions on movements.
It said US government officials would put off all non-essential visits to the kingdom.
"US citizens are advised to stay alert, exercise caution and monitor international and Thai media," the advisory said.
Secretary of State John Kerry has strongly condemned Thursday's coup, saying there was "no justification" and that the move would have "negative implications" for relations between the two countries.
The top US diplomat urged the restoration of a civilian government, respect for press freedom and early elections.
Thailand is the oldest US ally in Asia and provided critical support in the Vietnam and Korean wars.
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