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CHINA

Authorities call for action on tainted food

BEIJING | China’s Cabinet ordered authorities across the country on Thursday to step up their battle against illegal food additives following several recent tainted-food scandals.

So far this year, authorities have uncovered sales of drug-tainted pork, bean sprouts treated with a carcinogenic chemical compound and old bread treated with sweeteners and dye to make it seem fresh.

The announcement by the State Council on Thursday said food inspections should be stepped up and violators must be punished severely. It did not say whether there would be any new, stricter penalties.

China’s worst food-safety scandal in recent years involved infant formula and other dairy products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. It killed six children and sickened more than 300,000 others in 2008.

VIETNAM

Vietnam, China vow to work on disputed sea pact

HANOI | Vietnam and China have agreed to take the first steps toward settling territorial disputes in the South China Sea/East Sea, a government official in Hanoi said Thursday, after years of deadlock.

The deal to set out a framework for talks was struck during a visit this week by the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, who met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Beijing and Hanoi have a long-standing dispute in the South China Sea over the sovereignty of the Paracel archipelago and the more southerly Spratly islands, both potentially resource-rich rocky outcrops that straddle strategic shipping lanes.

Vietnam has reported numerous cases of fishing boats and equipment being seized by China in disputed areas since 2009.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim all or part of the Spratlys, and China’s increasingly assertive role in the area has raised tensions with other countries in the region as well as the United States.

INDONESIA

19 arrested after bomb found near church

JAKARTA | Terror suspects arrested Thursday led police to a 330-pound bomb buried beneath a gas pipeline near a church just outside Indonesia’s capital, officials said.

Senior security minister Djoko Suyanto said he believed Islamic militants had been plotting an attack ahead of Easter celebrations, and the U.S. embassy urged Americans to be vigilant.

“The army and police are under high alert,” he told reporters, adding that troops would be deployed at churches and other strategic locations. “We want to guarantee safety.”

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has been battling extremists since 2002, when al Qaeda-linked militants attacked two nightclubs on Bali island, killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists.

There have been several attacks since then targeting glitzy hotels, restaurants and an embassy, killing another 60. Hundreds of suspects have been arrested, convicted and thrown in jail.

In recent months, small bands of militants hoping to turn the secular nation of 237 million into an Islamic state have shifted their focus to local “enemies.”

AUSTRALIA

Detainees set fire to immigration center

SYDNEY | Asylum seekers and other detainees at an Australian immigration center set fire to several buildings, climbed onto rooftops and hurled tiles at officials who were scrambling on Thursday to end the chaotic protest.

Up to 100 people being held at Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Center were involved in the riot, which began Wednesday night when two detainees climbed onto a roof, immigration officials said.

Protesters set an oxygen cylinder alight, which led to an explosion, and fire gutted nine buildings - including a medical center and dining hall. Firefighters brought the blaze under control early Thursday, and no one was injured.

About 400 people are held at Villawood. Many of them are asylum seekers, but the facility also houses people who have overstayed their visas.

CHINA

VP praises outgoing U.S. ambassador

BEIJING | China’s expected future leader praised outgoing U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman on Thursday amid talk of the former Utah governor launching a presidential run.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping called Mr. Huntsman “an old friend of the Chinese people” who had made “unremitting efforts to promote the exchanges between our two people.

“Let me express our appreciation for your contributions. We will never forget what you have done,” said Mr. Xi, who is expected to begin taking over from President Hu Jintao next year.

Mr. Xi’s comments came during a meeting in Beijing with an unusually large delegation of 10 U.S. senators led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, which Mr. Huntsman also attended.

The delegation is in China for talks with Chinese officials on topics from clean energy to human rights.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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