- Baby George has royal play day in New Zealand
- Japan opposition fears Abe 'destabilizing' region
- Vietnam releases one of its most prominent dissidents
Posted: 08 Apr 2014 10:40 PM PDT
Wellington (AFP) - Britain's baby Prince George hosted his first ever official function on Wednesday -- maintaining a regal calm on a play date with a group of New Zealand toddlers, even as some of the others burst into tears.
The eight-month old, whose parents Prince William and Kate began a tour of New Zealand on Monday, met 10 local babies at Wellington's Government House at a play session organised by non-profit childcare group Plunket.
George, who was born on July 22 last year, looked comfortable in the spotlight as his mother gently rocked him in her arms and chatted to his playmates' parents.
The babies sat in a room with a large portrait of George's great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II looking down from the wall, with cushions and toys scattered on the floor, including a giant blue teddy bear.
There were tears from some of the other infants as introductions were made but George, dressed in dark-coloured dungaree shorts and a white t-shirt, appeared calm even after dropping a toy to the floor.
Plunket president Tristine Clark said the babies were all roughly the same age as George and were born to first-time parents, just like William and Kate.
She said the parents were also selected to reflect the diversity of New Zealand society, including various ethnic groups and a same-sex couple.
"The parents are a spread of all the communities in New Zealand, including Maoris, Samoans, people of Chinese descent and gay couples," she said ahead of the session.
"This is a very multi-cultural country and we wanted the Duke and Duchess (of Cambridge) to meet people from all backgrounds."
Kate wore a simple black and white dress for the occasion, while William opted for an open-necked blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up as he sipped on a soft drink.
Plunket's Wellington manager Tina Syme said the event was designed to be fun for the royals, who said they wanted to meet as many locals as possible as they kick off their three-week tour of New Zealand and Australia.
"We wanted something quite special for the duke and duchess, not just a meet-and-greet and shake hands but something that was actually really enjoyable for them as well," she said.
While the atmosphere was meant to be relaxed, Syme said the parents had been advised to address the royals as "Your Royal Highness" on the first instance, followed by their name after that.
She said the parents had also been told not to hesitate to intervene if a royal row erupted between the prince and some of his pint-sized subjects.
"They said what you do at a normal play group, you can do here. If you're the nearest parent and you need to intervene for a child's safety, then you would."
The New Zealand Republic lobby group said any of the 10 Kiwi babies at Government House would be better qualified as the country's head of state than George, who is third in line to the throne in both Britain and New Zealand.
"Baby George is as cute as any other baby... but unfortunately he cannot be New Zealand's future head of state, not unless he one day migrates to New Zealand and becomes a citizen," it said.
Posted: 08 Apr 2014 10:35 PM PDT
Washington (AFP) - Japan's main opposition leader chided Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for conservative statements on war history and voiced fear he could be a "destabilizing" factor in East Asia.
On a visit to Washington on Tuesday, Banri Kaieda, president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said he remained fully committed to the country's past expressions of regret for its wartime behavior.
Kaieda said that the Abe government's remarks and actions had alienated Japan's neighbors as well as its US and European allies by "fueling suspicions that Prime Minister Abe may be a historical revisionist."
"I clearly reject historical revisionism and will oppose it," Kaieda said at the Brookings Institution think tank, vowing that his party "will safeguard the mature democracy fostered by post-war Japanese society."
"Domestically, the Abe administration has now made its authoritarian tendencies clear and internationally, the Abe administration could move beyond the realm of healthy nationalism and become a destabilizing factor in East Asia," Kaieda said.
Abe in December paid a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including convicted war criminals from World War II. The move outraged China and South Korea and led to a rare public rebuke by the United States, Japan's main ally.
Abe, whose grandfather was arrested but not prosecuted as a war criminal, is known for his conservative views and while in opposition questioned whether imperial Japan forced women into sexual slavery, although he has since indicated he will not revoke a landmark 1993 apology to the so-called "comfort women".
Kaieda voiced hope for strong relations with both Asian neighbors and the United States, saying that Japan could still voice concerns over actions by a rising China while expressing remorse for the past.
Kaieda repeatedly portrayed himself as an ideological soul mate of President Barack Obama, saying that his party shared the US Democrats' principles of social inclusion.
The Democratic Party of Japan "wants an open nation that's cosmopolitan, multicultural -- an open nation with no gender discrimination. We will thoroughly oppose xenophobia," he said.
The center-left party led Japan from 2009 until 2012 when it was crushed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. The ruling coalition later won upper house elections, handing Abe a stronger political position than any Japanese prime minister in nearly a decade. - AFP
Posted: 08 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT
HANOI: One of Vietnam's most prominent dissidents, who was jailed after trying to sue the prime minister, has been freed and has left for the United States, a US official said.
French-trained lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, the son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison for "anti-state activity".
The release of the 55-year-old, who last year staged a hunger strike to draw attention to his treatment in jail, followed intense campaigning by rights groups and foreign governments.
"We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release prisoner of conscience Dr Vu," US Embassy spokesman Spencer Cryder said.
"Dr Vu and his wife decided to travel to the United States after his release from prison and arrived in Washington DC on Monday."
He declined to say whether Vu would live permanently in the United States, but Washington has granted asylum to Vietnamese dissidents in the past.
The Vietnamese government has not said why it freed Vu, who according to his wife suffered from heart problems.
Vu's lawyer Tran Vu Hai said the reason for his release was unclear.
The veteran activist is the son of Cu Huy Can, who was a member of revered founding president Ho Chi Minh's provisional cabinet from 1945 and remains a celebrated poet.
Vu was arrested in 2010 after attempting unsuccessfully to sue Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung over a bauxite mining plan that sparked unusually broad opposition.
The head judge in his trial said Vu's writings and interviews "blackened" the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Former wartime foes Vietnam and the US have worked to improve ties in recent decades, but concerns over human rights have sometimes strained the relationship.
The one-party state is regularly denounced by rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion.
Human Rights Watch's Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said Vu's release was a "welcome development, especially given the serious health issues he developed while unjustly imprisoned by the Vietnam authorities".
"He should never have been tried or imprisoned in the first place because all he did was exercise his right to free speech," Robertson added.
Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run.
Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to rights groups.
Reporters Without Borders said earlier this month that Vietnam was second only to China in the number of bloggers it detained with at least 34 behind bars. — AFP
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