- - Thursday, November 18, 2010

NORTH KOREA

Heir apparent purges senior officials

SEOUL | North Korea’s young heir apparent has launched a purge of senior party and military officials in an apparent attempt to cement his grip on power, a North Korean defectors group said Wednesday.

Pyongyang this month began a crackdown on senior officials suspected of corruption, starting in Musan county in the northeastern province of North Hamkyong, said the Seoul-based North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.

A spokesman said the information came from North Korean sources whom he described as senior party officials closely connected with the investigation.

“About 15 heavyweight officials, many of them military, are being investigated for turning a blind eye to people fleeing the country and being involved in smuggling activities,” the spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

He said the investigation was being led by Kim Jong-un, youngest son and chosen successor to leader Kim Jong-il.

The crackdown, which would be expanded into a nationwide campaign, was a “politically motivated purge” aimed at replacing long-standing military members with younger officials more loyal to Kim Jong-un, the spokesman said.

TAIWAN

Tae kwon do row spurs anti-China feeling

TAIPEI | The disqualification of a Taiwanese athlete at the Asian Games has set off a furor on this island of 23 million people, with media outlets and thousands of citizens accusing China of foul play.

The case of Yang Shu-chun underscores the fraught nature of relations across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait 2 1/2 years after Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou began a largely successful effort to lower tensions between the once-bitter rivals amid a welter of groundbreaking economic deals.

It comes just days after Mr. Ma warned Beijing that further Chinese efforts to undermine Taiwanese sovereignty could harm the reconciliation process. Mr. Ma was reacting to the demand of the Chinese delegation at an international film festival in Japan that Taiwan participate in the event under the name China Taiwan rather than the usual Chinese Taipei, to make it appear the democratic island is under China’s sway.

Ms. Yang’s disqualification occurred at the tail end of her match against Vietnamese competitor.

CHINA

Fire probe finds bogus deals, cut corners

SHANGHAI | Investigators probing a fire that ravaged a downtown Shanghai high-rise apartment, killing at least 53 people, say an energy-saving project that used illegal contracts, unsafe materials and unqualified workers is mainly to blame.

The blaze Monday gutted the 28-story building, left 70 injured and dozens unaccounted for, and prompted a belated crackdown on illegal construction work and lax fire precautions. It also is raising alarm over widespread use of flammable insulation used to retrofit buildings to meet new energy standards.

NEW ZEALAND

Report: Skippers blamed in whale protest sinking

WELLINGTON | Investigators looking into a collision between a Japanese whaler and a high-tech protest boat on the high seas off Antarctica earlier this year said Thursday the captains of both vessels were to blame.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had accused the Japanese ship of deliberately ramming its futuristic, rocket-shaped boat, the Ady Gil, on Jan. 6, slicing the bow off the speedboat and eventually causing it to sink. The whalers denied it, saying the Ady Gil’s captain deliberately put his vessel in their ship’s path.

The government safety agency Maritime New Zealand said in a report released Thursday that the captains of both the Ady Gil and the whaler, the Shonan Maru No. 2, “were responsible for either contributing to, or failing to respond to the ‘close quarters’ situation that led to the collision.”

AUSTRALIA

Man wanted in wife’s death to be deported

ADELAIDE | Australian officials said Thursday they would deport an American convicted in the death of his wife on a scuba-diving honeymoon after U.S. officials pledged not to seek the death penalty if he is convicted again at home.

Gabe Watson was released from prison last week after serving an 18-month sentence for the manslaughter of his wife, Tina, in 2003 during a trip in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

He was being held in immigration custody until Australia - a staunch opponent of the death penalty - received assurances that he would not face capital charges in his home state of Alabama.

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