- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

PHILIPPINES

Asian leaders seek free-trade zone

CEBU — Southeast Asian leaders agreed yesterday to turn their region into a free-trade zone by 2015 — a decade earlier than previously proposed — and create a tighter political bloc.

The 10-nation free-trade zone will be adopted in two stages, with the six richer nations — including wealthy Singapore and oil-rich Brunei — starting the integration in 2010 and the others following later.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations “is committed to expanding its trade forum to become the largest in the world,” Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the host of the annual summit, said in opening the meeting, held under heavy security following three deadly explosions in the southern Philippines days before.

BANGLADESH

Thousands arrested in crackdown

DHAKA — Police and soldiers have arrested more than 2,500 people and raided the homes of several political leaders after a new caretaker government was sworn in to quell unrest ahead of elections, police and news reports said yesterday.

Security forces arrested 2,552 persons, including 195 from the capital, who were detained across the country overnight Friday on “various charges,” a statement released yesterday by police headquarters in Dhaka said.

The arrests and raids came after Fakhruddin Ahmed, a respected economist and former central bank governor, became head of the country’s caretaker government in a bid to restore calm to a nation beset by violence amid preparations for national elections.

A 19-party political alliance led by a former prime minister, Sheik Hasina Wajed, launched the protests to demand a delay in the polls until the completion of electoral reforms, including a new voters’ list and President Iajuddin Ahmed’s resignation.

JAPAN

Distant quake stirs up Pacific

TOKYO — Thousands of people along Japan’s eastern coast fled to higher ground after an 8.2 magnitude earthquake triggered tsunami warnings yesterday in parts of the Pacific region, including Hawaii and Alaska.

The warnings were lifted nine hours after the quake rattled coastal residents more than two years after giant waves spawned by an Indian Ocean earthquake killed at least 230,000.

The largest wave reported by late yesterday was a 16-inch tidal surge along the shores of Chichi-jima, a Pacific island 620 miles south of Tokyo, more than three hours after the quake.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

RUSSIA

Minister concedes reputation damaged

MOSCOW — Russia’s trade minister acknowledged yesterday that his country’s reputation as an energy supplier suffered in the dispute with Belarus that disrupted oil exports to Europe, and said Russia must build more alternative export routes.

German Gref, who took part in top-level negotiations that concluded late Friday, said it will take years for Russia to overcome European fears about Moscow’s dependability, which had already been damaged by last year’s price dispute with Ukraine. That dispute resulted in temporary shortages of Russian gas to European customers.

Russia on Monday stopped shipping oil to Europe through a major pipeline that crosses Belarus. Russian oil shipments resumed early Thursday after Belarus and Russia reached a new pricing agreement.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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