- - Monday, September 6, 2010

CHINA

China, U.S. meet amid trade, military tensions

BEIJING | Senior U.S. and Chinese officials met Monday to steady relations upset by disputes over currency, trade and military affairs, despite calls for a tougher line on Chinese economic policies that some say are contributing to American unemployment.

With congressional elections in two months, President Obama is under pressure to kick-start the economy, and many lawmakers say he should start by addressing China’s lopsided trade surplus and currency policies.

Meanwhile, China’s nationalistic state-controlled media have criticized U.S.-South Korea military exercises in the Yellow Sea and U.S. government statements on South China Sea territorial disputes, saying they represent threats to China’s security.

Chinese officials tried to set a positive tone, emphasizing the need for cooperative relations, at the start of their meetings with National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers and Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon.

Mr. Summers later told Vice Prime Minister Wang Qishan that Mr. Obama “has emphasized for us the importance he attaches to a very strong relationship between the United Sates and China.”

Among the issues on the agenda, Mr. Summers said, is setting up a visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

AUSTRIA

Syria said to be stonewalling nuke probe

VIENNA | The U.N. atomic watchdog said Monday it has been unable to make any progress in its two-year investigation into reputed illicit nuclear activities in Syria as Damascus is still refusing to cooperate.

In a restricted five-page report obtained by Agence France-Presse, the International Atomic Energy Agency complained that Syria “has not cooperated with the agency since June 2008 in connection with the unresolved issues related to the Dair Alzour site and the other three locations allegedly functionally related to it.”

“As a consequence, the agency has not been able to make progress towards resolving the outstanding issues related to those sites.”

The United States accuses Syria of building a covert nuclear reactor at the remote desert site of Dair Alzour with the help of North Korea until it was bombed by Israel in September 2007.

U.N. inspectors also detected “significant” traces of man-made uranium at that site, as yet unexplained by Damascus, the report said. It has also requested access to three other locations said to be functionally related to Dair Alzour, but so far to no avail.

FRANCE

Unions launch strike over pension overhaul

PARIS | French train traffic began tapering off Monday at the start of what promises to be a major strike over unpopular conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

The strike took effect gradually on the state-run train network starting at 8 p.m. But the big disruptions were expected Tuesday, with protesters taking to the streets and the work stoppage spreading to airports and public transport.

Civil aviation authorities asked airlines to cut a quarter of their flights at Paris’ airports Tuesday. Only two out of five fast trains are to run, and traffic will be slowed on Paris’ subway and suburban transport lines.

The strike coincides with the start of debate in parliament over a plan to overhaul the money-losing pension system so it will break even in 2018. The government insists the reform is essential as people live longer, and it has urged people to show “courage” as it tries to chip away at the huge national debt.

Unions say the government is attacking one of France’s most cherished social protections — though a retirement age of 62 would still be among the lowest in Europe.

About 200 street demonstrations are planned Tuesday throughout France, including in Paris. Unions hope to mobilize 2 million people at a time when Sarkozy’s approval ratings hover in the mid-30 percent range. A similar effort June 24 drew nearly 800,000.

PAKISTAN

Suicide attack kills 17 people

LAKKI MARWAT | A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically important town in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes.

About 40 people were wounded in the attack in Lakki Marwat, which sits on the main road between Punjab province, Pakistan’s largest and most prosperous, and the North and South Waziristan tribal regions.

Hours after the attack, officials said a suspected U.S. missile strike had killed three reputed militants in North Waziristan, home to the Haqqani network, a militant group battling U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In Lakki Marwat, rescue workers and police officials were digging through rubble at the station, police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said. Nine police officers, four adult civilians and four children going to school were slain in the attack.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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