Aquino urges China to boost investment
BEIJING — The Philippine president urged Chinese companies on Wednesday to invest more in his country despite a territorial spat and pledged they would receive open and equal access.
President Benigno Aquino III, starting a weeklong visit to China, said the economic climate is ideal for Chinese companies to invest in the Philippines' growing tourism, agriculture and infrastructure industries.
"China is an economic power. I now invite the Chinese business community to take part in this opportunity to invest in an emerging economic force in Southeast Asia," Mr. Aquino told the Philippines-China Economic and Trade Forum.
About 300 business leaders joined Mr. Aquino on the trip to China, which lags the U.S. and Japan as the Philippines' third-largest trading partner.
The two sides signed an agreement Wednesday on a five-year plan to boost trade sixfold to $60 billion. They also agreed to promote tourism and language training.
Government cranks up debt-reduction effort
LISBON — Portugal's government plans "unprecedented" spending cuts next year to meet debt-reduction targets agreed in return for a $112.7 billion bailout, the country's finance minister said Wednesday.
Portugal has to abide by debt targets to qualify for bailout loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, which are conducting quarterly reviews of the country's progress before disbursing the money in portions.
The rescue package spared debt-heavy Portugal from bankruptcy, and aimed to ease Europe's sovereign debt crisis, but Lisbon has struggled to keep its fiscal recovery plan on track.
It previously announced it is levying a one-off tax, taking 50 percent of workers' Christmas bonus, to help reach the 5.9 percent target for the budget deficit this year. The bonus is equivalent to a month's pay.
Government opens probe of deadly fire
MONTERREY — The Nuevo Leon state governor said he is investigating possible corruption by the Monterrey mayor's brother, who was videotaped receiving wads of cash inside a gambling hall days before a casino fire killed 52 people.
Gov. Rodrigo Medina said the images released by the newspaper Reforma are "overwhelming."
He announced the investigation Wednesday along with proposals to prevent new casinos in the northern Mexico state and to better regulate existing ones.
Gunmen entered the Casino Royale in Monterrey on Thursday, spread gasoline and set the building on fire, trapping and asphyxiating dozens in what's believed to be a case of extortion.
The five arrested so far confessed to being part of the Zetas drug cartel.
Security forces carry out raids, arrests
BEIRUT — Syrian security forces searching for anti-government protesters raided houses in central Syria and made arrests, activists and residents said Wednesday.
The troops, backed by tanks and military vehicles, entered districts in Homs and Hama as part of efforts to crush five months of street protests against President Bashar Assad.
Wednesday's raids come a day after security forces killed seven people as thousands of protesters poured out of mosques and marched through cemeteries at the start of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday when Muslims traditionally visit graves and pray for the dead.
Court voids refugee deal with Malaysia
CANBERRA — Australia's highest court Wednesday voided a transfer of asylum seekers to Malaysia, ruling the government's attempt to stem an influx of boat people from poor, war-torn countries could not assure their legal rights would be protected.
The High Court ruled 6-1 to make permanent an injunction that has prevented Australia from transferring 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for Malaysia sending 4,000 registered refugees for resettlement. The ruling cannot be appealed, but the government said it was considering its options.
Government lawyers had argued in court that Australia could lawfully declare Malaysia a safe third country to process refugee claims even though it had no domestic or international legal obligations to protect refugees.
The court said in a statement that Malaysia has not signed the U.N. Convention on Refugees and the deal with Australia did not legally bind Malaysia to recognize the status of refugees under its domestic law.
Australia has long attracted asylum seekers hoping to start a new life, with more than 6,200 arriving by boat last year.
From wire dispatches and staff reports