- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2010

KOREA

North Korea scraps tourism deal with South

SEOUL | North Korea said Thursday it had scrapped a tourism deal with South Korea and would “freeze” some assets owned by Seoul at a mountain resort in the communist state.

The North also said it was expelling some South Korean personnel from Mount Kumgang on its east coast and would let a new partner take over the tourism business there.

The announcement was set to further strain relations, which already are tense after an unexplained explosion that sank a South Korean warship near the disputed border on March 26.

North Korea, which has been hit with several international sanctions, has increased pressure on the South to restart the business, which previously had earned it tens of millions of dollars a year.

CHINA

Geithner visits Beijing amid currency dispute

BEIJING | U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner met with a Chinese vice premier Thursday and discussed economic ties in a sign the two sides might be trying to cool their rhetoric in a dispute over China’s currency controls.

In a statement after the meeting, the Treasury Department did not say whether the two sides discussed currency. And phone calls to China’s Finance Ministry were not answered.

But Mr. Geithner had been expected to press Washington’s case for Beijing to ease exchange-rate controls that critics say distort trade and keep China’s currency artificially low.

VIETNAM

ASEAN ponders ties with Russia, U.S.

HANOI | Southeast Asian leaders are holding discussions on how they might expand relations with Russia and the United States, Singapore’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The discussion comes as the 43-year-old Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) tries to ensure it is not pushed aside by proposals for new regional groupings.

“It’s very important that we stay in the driver’s seat,” Singapore Minister George Yeo said on the sidelines of the bloc’s summit in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

He said ASEAN heads of state, at a summit dinner Thursday and further talks Friday, would hold preliminary discussions about what form ties with Russia and the U.S. should take.

Russia and the U.S. already are part of a formal dialogue process with the 10-member ASEAN. But they are not part of the East Asia Summit.

PAKISTAN

Lawmakers approve landmark reforms

ISLAMABAD | Pakistan’s national assembly on Thursday unanimously approved reforms stripping President Asif Ali Zardari of key powers in a move to bolster parliamentary democracy weakened by military rule.

The historic 18th amendment, which rolls back four decades of infringements by military rulers on Pakistan’s 1973 constitution, is expected to sail through the upper house of parliament as early as next week and then pass into law.

The package reverses sweeping powers amassed by former military dictators Pervez Musharraf and Zia ul Haq and could ease political instability in the nuclear-armed country on the front line of the U.S.-led war on al Qaeda.

All 292 lawmakers present at Thursday’s session in the 342-member national assembly voted to approve the 102-clause bill, by filing into a separate lobby attached to the debating chamber. No one voted against it.

SRI LANKA

Low turnout marks first postwar election

COLOMBO | Sri Lankans voted on Thursday in an election likely to further entrench President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political dominance, the first parliamentary poll since last year’s end of a quarter-century of war.

Nearly 80,000 police and soldiers guarded polling stations across the Indian Ocean island, where voters culled 7,620 candidates to fill the 225-member parliament. Election monitors reported some minor violent incidents.

Turnout was 50 to 55 percent, monitors said. If confirmed, that would make Thursday’s turnout the lowest of all 20 national polls since 1947, when then-Ceylon elected its first parliament to prepare for independence from Britain the next year.

Counting began on Thursday evening, and the first results were expected around midnight. The Election Commission said it would only release an official turnout figure with the final tally, expected on Friday.

Mr. Rajapaksa already has parlayed last May’s victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists into a new six-year term. Now he is banking on a resurgent economy and political momentum to give his United Peoples Freedom Alliance the legislative majority.

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