Selasa, 27 Mei 2014

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Emblematic Venezuelan prisoner begins hunger strike for freedom

Posted: 27 May 2014 09:00 PM PDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - An imprisoned former Caracas police commissioner at the centre of stalled political talks between Venezuela's government and opposition went on a hunger strike on Tuesday, demanding he be released due to frail health.

Ivan Simonovis, 54, was sentenced to 30 years behind bars after being convicted of participating in the assassination of four protesters during a march that triggered a brief coup against the late President Hugo Chavez in 2002.

Freedom for Simonovis has become a rallying cry for the opposition, which has expressed outrage at his imprisonment in a small cell and says his osteoporosis requires urgent medical attention.

The issue was a factor in this month's collapse of negotiations between the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro's government. The talks had been aimed at ending street protests that had been raging since February.

Protesters staged near-daily marches over three months to decry crime, inflation and food shortages. It was the worst unrest since a tumultuous two-year period around the time of the coup.

The demonstrations have ebbed in recent weeks but Simonovis' announcement may rekindle passions in deeply polarized Venezuela.

"All the legal and political efforts to receive a response to the (release) demands I made 10 months ago have been exhausted," Simonovis said in a letter read by his lawyer in front of the Supreme Court.

"I'm tired of acting in accordance to the law, yet no one listens to me. Despite my health condition and against the will of my family, I've decided to start a hunger strike in my cell as of today," the letter said.

Simonovis is one of the highest-profile cases among several dozen opposition-linked figures who ended up in prison during Chavez's 14-year rule from 1999.

For government supporters, Simonovis is a dangerous and violent saboteur who played a role in illegally unseating a democratically elected president. He was sentenced in 2009 after lengthy proceedings. Several other officers were convicted.

Later on Tuesday, Maduro slammed mainstream media for seeking to "convert a murderer into a victim."

"I won't waver in ensuring justice is done," he said during an hours-long radio program called "In Contact with Maduro."

"One sees that there's not even a minimum of reflection, of regret here. To the contrary, (opponents) continue to seek the same thing, to use violence to impose a capitalist, retrograde and repressive regime in Venezuela."

In recent months, the government has arrested more than 3,200 people during protests, of whom 224 remain behind bars, according to government figures. The best known is Leopoldo Lopez, a hardline opposition leader.

Senior Socialist Party official Jorge Rodriguez infuriated Simonovis's supporters earlier this month, saying the man's case was not on the agenda of the now-suspended talks despite opposition assertions his release was being negotiated.

"Those were vivid fantasies," Rodriguez said.

Simonovis's family say his health is so weak he runs the risk of breaking bones from simple acts such as lacing up his shoes.

The case may evoke memories of farmer Franklin Brito, who died in 2010 after a hunger strike to protest against Chavez's land takeovers.

(Writing and additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Jonathan Oatis and Paul Tait)

Australia opposition leader expects mining, carbon taxes to be repealed

Posted: 27 May 2014 08:50 PM PDT

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten said on Wednesday he expects the mining and carbon taxes introduced by his party in the previous parliamentary term to be repealed despite opposition from Labor and some minority parties.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made repealing the taxes a centrepiece of his government's agenda, but doubts have grown about the ability to pass the legislation given stated opposition from lawmakers including mining tycoon Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party.

"The mining tax, I suspect will be repealed despite Labor's position," Shorten said in response to questions at a meeting of mining executives in Canberra.

Shorten also said that he believes the carbon tax would be repealed this year, after a new upper house Senate is sworn in July.

(Reporting by James Regan; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Michael Urquhart)

Thai military rulers appoint advisers; economy in doldrums

Posted: 27 May 2014 08:35 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's junta has appointed as advisers two retired generals with palace connections, putting powerful establishment figures hostile towards former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra firmly in the ascendant in the country's long-running power struggle.

Hoping to show things are getting back to normal, the military has also relaxed a night-time curfew brought in after it seized power in a May 22 coup, and is expected to speed up efforts to get the economy moving again after months of debilitating political protests.

Data on Wednesday showed factory output fell 3.9 percent in April from a year earlier, the 13th monthly drop in a row.

Figures later in the day are forecast to show imports tumbled 18.2 percent that month. Exports may have risen marginally, but that will not be enough to offset the depression in the domestic economy.

The team of advisers announced in a brief statement late on Tuesday included a former defence minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan, and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda.

The two are towering figures in Thailand's military establishment and have close ties to coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha. All three are staunch monarchists and helped oust Thaksin, who remains at the heart of the political crisis, in a 2006 coup.

A Reuters report in December revealed that Prawit and Anupong had secretly backed the anti-government protests that undermined the government of Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. She was removed by a court on May 7 for abuse of power and the coup ousted remaining ministers two weeks later.

Also among the advisers is Pridiyathorn Devakula, overseeing the economy. A former central banker, he was finance minister in an interim government after the 2006 coup when strict capital controls were introduced to hold down the baht, causing the stock market to plunge 15 percent in one day.

Thailand's gross domestic product shrank 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 as the anti-government protests frequently shut down ministries, damaged confidence and scared off tourists.

The military has moved quickly to tackle economic problems, notably preparing payments for hundreds of thousands of rice farmers that the ousted government was unable to make.

But General Prayuth has not set any timetable for elections, saying broad reforms are needed first.

That may further complicate relations with foreign governments that have called for a speedy return to democracy, an end to censorship and the release of politicians, protest leaders, journalists and others detained.

"We're going to have to continue to calibrate how we'll work with the government and military when they don't show any pathway back to civilian rule," a senior U.S. official told Reuters in Washington. "We're very concerned and there will be an impact on our relationship."


Scores of politicians and activists have been detained as the military moves to stifle resistance to its takeover.

There have been daily, peaceful protests against the coup in Bangkok with crowds calling for elections and confronting troops, although the number of protesters had dwindled to about 200 on Tuesday from about 1,000 on Sunday.

A seven-hour curfew the army imposed after the coup from 10 p.m each night will from Wednesday be shortened to four hours starting from midnight.

Thaksin has not commented on the coup except to say he was saddened and hoped the military would treat everyone fairly. Yingluck has been released from detention but remains under some restrictions, officers and aides say.

Soldiers detained a former education minister, Chaturon Chaisang, on Wednesday after he had emerged from hiding to denounce the coup, saying it would only worsen conflict. He said people in detention were not being treated badly.

Years of political turmoil have polarised Thailand.

The Shinawatras' strength is in the north and northeast, populous, mostly rural regions that have won them every election since 2001. Some Thaksin loyalists had vowed to resist a coup and the army and police are hunting for weapons.

Many Bangkok voters support the establishment and approve of the coup if it means ending Thaksin's influence. They say he is corrupt and disrespectful to the monarchy. He denies that.

Most Thais express steadfast loyalty to 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"This is a good coup," said Chanchai Thonprasertvej, 54, a doctor at a small pro-coup gathering at Bangkok's Democracy Monument on Tuesday. "The army can protect the land and the king. It will protect my country from Thaksin."

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Orathai Sriring in Bangkok, Andrew R.C. Marshall and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Robert Birsel and Alan Raybould; Editing by Alex Richardson)


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