- - Thursday, December 22, 2011

CHINA

Protesting villagers win rare compromise

BEIJING | Southern Chinese authorities have given in to key demands of protesting villagers after a nearly two-week standoff with police, agreeing in a rare compromise to release detainees and return some confiscated land to farmers.

Guangdong’s Communist Party Deputy-Secretary Zhu Mingguo told Wukan village protest leader Yang Semao on Wednesday that four villagers being held by police would be released over the next few days, Yang told the Associated Press.

“So now we are cautiously optimistic,” Yang said.

The significance of the authorities’ unusual concession in Wukan depends on how the details are played out. But it could affect the way other protests are handled, particularly in the corner of coastal southern China, which has seen periodic unrest over the past few years.

To Wukan’s northeast, the coastal town of Haimen saw a second day of protests Wednesday over a planned coal-fired power plant.

Conflicts over land disputes and other issues in much of Guangdong province have been intense because the area is among China’s most economically developed, pushing up land prices.

PAKISTAN

Premier alleges conspiracy to oust government

ISLAMABAD | Pakistan’s prime minister claimed Thursday there is a conspiracy to oust the country’s civilian government, a sign of growing tension with the army over a secret memo sent to Washington earlier this year asking for help in averting a supposed military coup.

The conflict between the army and the government intensified this week after the Supreme Court began a hearing into the scandal, which already has forced Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States to resign and also threatens the president.

The political crisis comes as Pakistan is facing a violent Taliban insurgency, a failing economy and severe tension with its most important ally, the United States, over NATO airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

“Conspiracies are being hatched to pack up the elected government,” said Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during a speech in Islamabad.

The prime minister did not specifically blame the military, but later in the day, he made clear in a speech to parliament that the army must operate under the control of the government.

“They have to be answerable to this parliament,” Mr. Gilani said. “They cannot be a state within a state.”

The army is considered the strongest institution in Pakistan and has ruled the country for much of its 64-year history after carrying out a series of military coups.

Analysts have expressed doubt that a coup is likely at this time, but the memo scandal has exacerbated already strained ties between the army and the government.

THAILAND

Group slams return of Lao refugee

BANGKOK | A leading rights group on Thursday criticized Thailand’s “callous disregard” for human rights after it handed a registered refugee back to officials in Laos despite fears of persecution on his return.

Ka Yang and his family, of the Hmong ethnic group, were forcibly handed over at the Thai-Laos border on Saturday despite U.N. recognition of his refugee status, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

He was one of 158 registered Hmong refugees who were repatriated forcibly by Thai troops in December 2009, along with more than 4,000 others whose needs for international protection the United Nations was never allowed to assess.

Thailand said the refugees were illegal economic migrants, but the mass deportation sparked global outrage for violating international refugee law.

PHILIPPINES

U.N.: Flood destruction like tsunami

ILIGAN | A southern Philippine area devastated by flash floods that killed more than 1,000 people looks like it was hit by a tsunami, a U.N. official said Thursday as he appealed for $28 million in aid for the region.

U.N. humanitarian coordinator Soe Nyunt-U voiced concern about possible outbreaks of disease among the thousands living in evacuation centers after their houses were washed away Dec. 16 when a tropical storm unleashed the flash floods.

“It was as if the cities were hit by an inland tsunami,” Nyunt-U told reporters in Manila. “Entire areas were completely flattened. “

Aid workers were rushing in relief supplies, but a lack of running water is a major concern.

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