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CHINA

Iraq offered aid, debt relief

BEIJING — China yesterday forgave Iraq’s debt owed to the Chinese government and pledged to help rebuild the country’s war-shattered economy.

China has always been supportive and has participated in the rebuilding of Iraq,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a press conference, adding that Chinese companies were ready to participate in the rebuilding.

With Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on a weeklong trip here, Commerce Minister Bo Xilai later signed an agreement with Iraqi officials to cancel the debt owed the Chinese government. No details were provided.

VIETNAM

Second fatality linked to bird flu

HANOI — A 28-year-old woman has died of bird flu, the second person here to succumb to the deadly H5N1 strain in just 10 days after more than 18 months with no deaths in Vietnam, an official said yesterday.

Her death brings to 44 the number of persons who have died of bird flu in Vietnam. Last weekend authorities reported the death of a 20-year-old man, believed to be the first fatality since November 2005.

Since last month, five human cases of bird flu have been reported in Vietnam, including the two victims.

TAIWAN

Pardon frees ’rice bomber’

TAIPEI — A Taiwanese man known as the “rice bomber” for planting more than a dozen bombs to protest against the opening of the island’s rice market to foreign imports was released yesterday after being pardoned by President Chen Shui-bian.

Yang Ru-men, a 26-year-old former chicken vendor, was sentenced by a district court to 7½ years in jail in 2005 for planting the bombs — sprinkled with rice — in parks, telephone booths and commuter trains throughout Taipei. No one was injured in the blasts.

Mr. Yang said he wanted to publicize the plight of the nation’s rice farmers after Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization in 2002.

INDONESIA

Stiff sentences urged for Christian defendants

JAKARTA — Indonesian prosecutors pushed yesterday for between 15- to 20-year sentences for 17 Christians charged under anti-terror laws for the slayings of two Muslims by a mob angry about the execution of Christian militants last year.

The defendants were part of a gang that was charged with killing a Muslim fishmonger and his assistant in the Poso region of Sulawesi island, a Christian pocket of predominantly Muslim Indonesia.

Thousands protested last September’s executions, arguing the punishment for the three militants convicted of leading a mob that killed hundreds of Muslims in a boarding school in 2000 was unjust.

JAPAN

Rare manta ray dies in aquarium

TOKYO — A nearly 6-foot baby manta ray thought to have been the world’s first one bred in captivity was found dead in a tank at a Japanese aquarium yesterday, just a few days after it was born.

The baby manta’s death may have been caused by harassment and injury by its father, according to a statement by the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

Scientists know little about the life of manta rays, which can grow to 22 feet or more as adults, and had hoped the details of the yearlong pregnancy and birth would add valuable scientific data to studies of the species.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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