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Daily Archives: 06/07/2010

N. Korea promotes Kim relative in reshuffle

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (center) sits on the podium during a rare second session of the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday, June 7, 2010. Sitting on the left side of Mr. Kim is the North’s No. 2 official, Kim Yong Nam.

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June 7, 2010

SEOUL (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law was promoted and a premier who apologized for a currency debacle was replaced Monday in a rare parliamentary session with strong signs that the secretive nation was preparing a hereditary succession of power.

Mr. Kim was shown on Pyongyang’s state-run television presiding over the session, sitting behind a desk in the middle of a long line of parliamentarians. The scene was shot from a distance, so it was difficult to assess the health of the 68-year-old Mr. Kim, believed to have suffered a stroke two years ago.

The rubber-stamp parliament, or the Supreme People’s Assembly, usually meets once each year to approve bills vetted by the ruling Workers’ Party. The body met in April, and no reason was given for holding Monday’s unusual second session.

But the session came amid worsening economic woes, pressing succession issues and a South Korean campaign to get the United Nations to punish Pyongyang for a ship attack in March that killed 46 sailors. North denies sinking the ship, and state-run media did not say whether parliament discussed the issue, which the South has taken to the United Nations.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the lawmakers approved a major leadership reshuffle.

The most notable change was the promotion of Mr. Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek. He was named vice chairman of the all-powerful National Defense Commission, which makes security policy. Mr. Jang is widely believed to be a key backer of the North Korean leader’s third son, Jong Un, who several analysts think will be his father’s successor.

Mr. Jang is married to Mr. Kim’s younger sister and is said to be poised to play a kingmaker role. Many believe he may lead a collective leadership after Mr. Kim’s death until the new leader takes over.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said, “Electing Jang Song Thaek to the post of vice chairman officially appoints him as No. 2 in facilitating stable succession of power.”

He added, “With this post, he has been given all responsibility and rights to secure a stable structure for future succession.”

The new premier was identified as Choe Yong Rim, a parliament member who replaces Kim Yong-il, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

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IAEA Chief: Iran's Nuclear Program is 'Special Case'

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano prior to start of the agency's board of governors meeting in Vienna, 07 Jun, 2010IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano prior to start of the agency’s board of governors meeting in Vienna, 07 Jun, 2010

June 7, 2010

(VOA)  The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is a “special case” for the agency’s monitoring teams because of suspicions the country is hiding experimental nuclear programs.

Speaking at the opening of an agency conference Monday in Vienna, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Iranian officials have not provided the necessary cooperation for the IAEA to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful activities.

Delegates at the week-long IAEA conference are expected to discuss Iran and Syria’s nuclear programs.  Arab countries have also succeeded in putting Israel on the group’s agenda for the first time since 1991.

Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, but maintains a policy of refusing to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal.

The IAEA conference comes as the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on a fourth round of sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expects Iran to “pull some sort of stunt” in the next day or two to divert attention from the pending U.N. vote.

Clinton said Iran has done everything possible to avoid international responsibilities involving its nuclear program.

The U.N. Security Council has passed three sets of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium, a process that can be used to produce atomic weapons.

The United States and its Western allies accuse Iran of trying to make a nuclear weapon.  Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

German cabinet backs Merkel fiscal austerity plan

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June 7, 2010

(BBC)  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won the backing of her coalition cabinet for a fiscal austerity programme.

Berlin will cut the budget deficit by a record 80bn euros ($96bn; £66bn) by 2014.

The plan would cut the deficit by around 3% of GDP. The total deficit in 2009 was 3.1%, but is projected to grow to over 5% this year.

“Germany has an outstanding chance to set a good example,” said Mrs Merkel.

Among the measures agreed were a cut in subsidies to parents, 10,000 government job cuts over four years, and higher taxes on nuclear power.

The three-party cabinet also made one high-profile cut close to home, when it agreed to postpone plans to rebuild the baroque Stadtschloss palace in the heart of the capital city.

Trade surplus

However, many economists – notably US Nobel laureate Paul Krugman – have been highly critical of German budget plans.

They argue that with so many of the southern European governments under pressure from markets to slash spending, German budget cuts are the last thing that the European economy needs.

Moreover, Germany has run a large trade surplus with other European economies in recent years.

Economists say that this surplus helped exacerbate the debt problems that built up southern Europe, and now needs to be reversed.

However, if German households and companies do not increase spending, then the government’s budget plans will actually exacerbate the country’s surplus.

Vatican says world ignores Christians in Mideast

Pope Benedict XVI
June 6, 2010

NICOSIA, Cyprus – The Vatican said Sunday that the international community is ignoring the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and political instability in Lebanon have forced thousands to flee the region.

A working paper released during Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to Cyprus to prepare for a crisis summit of Middle East bishops in Rome in October also cites the “extremist current” unleashed by the rise of “political Islam” as a threat to Christians.

The paper said that the line between religion and politics is blurred in Muslim countries, “relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam.”

“The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognize religious freedom and human rights,” it said.

In his final Mass in Cyprus on Sunday, Benedict said he was praying that the October meeting will focus the attention of the international community “on the plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs.”

He appealed for an “urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed.”

The Vatican considers mostly Greek Orthodox Cyprus as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and invited bishops to come to the Mediterranean island to receive the working paper.

The pope said Cyprus can “play a particular role in promoting dialogue and cooperation” in the region.

A meeting between the pope and a Muslim leader was scrapped after the Turkish Cypriot official was delayed crossing the United Nations-controlled buffer zone that divides the island between ethnic Turks and Greeks, the Vatican said.

Yusuf Suicmez, the head of Turkish Cypriots’ religious affairs department, said he had hoped to pray with the pope for peace and brotherhood. Benedict briefly met with another Turkish Cypriot Muslim leader on Saturday as part of efforts to talk to both sides of the island’s decades-old conflict and help foster reconciliation.

Cyprus was ethnically split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots declared an independent republic in the north in 1983, but only Turkey recognizes it, and it maintains 35,000 troops there.

The island’s Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and newly-elected Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu resumed long-running reunification talks in May after a two-month pause for the poll. The talks have yielded only limited progress so far.

Benedict has tread a careful diplomatic path since arriving Friday on the island, but he made a poignant appeal for peace before leaving.

The pope said he saw for himself the “sad division of the island” and that he was “deeply moved” by the pleas of Cypriots who wished to return to homes in the north that were lost during the war.

“Let me encourage you and your fellow citizens to work patiently and steadfastly with your neighbors to build a better and more certain future for all your children,” the pope said.

A group of around 100 Orthodox Christian demonstrators earlier staged a peaceful protest against Benedict’s visit outside the Nicosia sports stadium where the pope presided over Mass, holding aloft banners calling the pope “a heretic.”

The Vatican estimates there are about 17 million Christians from Iran to Egypt, and that while many Christians have fled, new Catholic immigrants — mostly from the Philippines, India and Pakistan — have arrived in recent years in Arab countries to work as domestic or manual laborers.

The 46-page document said input from clerics in the region blamed the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories for inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life, alleging that access to holy places is dependent on military permission that is sometimes denied on security grounds.

It also complained that some Christian fundamentalists use biblical texts to justify Israel’s occupation “making the position of Christian Arabs an even more sensitive issue.”

The document said the rise of “political Islam” in Arab, Turkish and Iranian societies and its extremist currents are “clearly a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike.”

The Vatican expects about 150 bishops to attend the Oct. 10-24 meeting in Rome.