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Briefly

- - Thursday, December 15, 2011

JAPAN

Crippled nuclear plant to be declared stable

TOKYO | Japan is poised to declare its crippled nuclear plant virtually stable, nine months after a devastating tsunami.

But the facility still leaks some radiation, remains vulnerable to earthquakes and shows no prospect for cleanup for decades.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said last week that temperatures inside the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant's three melted reactor cores are almost consistently below the boiling point and radiation leaks have significantly subsided - two key conditions in a hoped-for "cold shutdown."

Officials say the government is expected to hold a news conference Friday to declare something close to cold shutdown, though experts caution it will be, at best, a tenuous stability.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. finds abuses by Afghan police

KABUL | U.S.-trained Afghan village police have committed some human rights abuses, a U.S. military investigation has found, adding recommendations on how to eliminate them.

An executive summary also found the program was effective in providing security in areas where the Afghan army and police could not.

It called for closer cooperation with human rights and nongovernmental organizations so the Afghan government can act more quickly when allegations of abuse are reported.

The investigation was ordered by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Allen, after the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report in September that alleged that some units of the Afghan Local Police, or ALP, were committing human rights abuses - including rape and killings.

The new inquiry was carried out without involvement of the Afghan government. The full 109-page report, drafted by Air Force Brig. Gen. James Marrs, will be made public later. An advance copy of the summary was made available to the Associated Press.

TAIWAN

Beijing, Washington watch Taiwan polls

TAIPEI | Taiwan's two leading presidential candidates have much in common: Both are products of prestigious foreign universities, both come from well-established families, and neither is particularly charismatic.

But that's where the similarities end. Incumbent Ma Ying-jeou wants Taiwan to move closer to China, while contender Tsai Ing-wen refuses to accept China's claim over the democratic island.

As the final month of campaigning began Thursday, their neck-and-neck race will be closely watched by Beijing and Washington, even though the Jan. 14 election so far has revolved mostly around domestic economic issues.

CHINA

Far western district bans veils, Arabic clothing

BEIJING | A city district in heavily Muslim western China is trying to tamp down religious fervor by prohibiting people from wearing veils, traditional Arab dress or growing long beards.

A regional spokeswoman said that she was unaware of the campaign, but added it sounds unrealistic.

The notice from the Dunmaili district of Yining disappeared from the Yining government website Thursday afternoon. It was still available on a state-run news website, though the reason for the discrepancy was uncertain.

Yining is in Xinjiang, a region home to the traditionally Muslim Uighur ethnic group.

THAILAND

Thai activist gets 15 years for insulting monarchy

BANGKOK | An activist was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison for insulting Thailand's king in the third case in a month involving the strict law against defaming the monarchy that is increasingly being criticized as an infringement on free speech.

Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, nicknamed "Da Torpedo" for her aggressive speaking style, has been detained since July 2008 after speaking at a rally using impolite language that was recorded by police.

The Criminal Court found Daranee guilty of violating the lese majeste law, which provides for a prison term of three to 15 years for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent, or the regent."

Daranee, a journalist, became an activist after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed in a 2006 coup and delivered fiery speeches at rallies organized by his "Red Shirt" supporters.