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World Scene

- - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

PORTUGAL

EU: Portugal's bailout is not lenient

LISBON | Portugal's bailout terms are 'severe' and no more lenient than those Greece and Ireland received, a European Union official said Wednesday in an effort to dodge any claims of double standards.

In announcing an imminent $115 billion bailout, Portugal's caretaker prime minister said he had won easier terms than those imposed on the other two countries last year.

The full details have yet to be revealed, but a softening of conditions could increase calls to revise Greece and Ireland's deals.

"He sold his highlights of the agreement," said an EU official about Jose Socrates' announcement on Portuguese television late Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with the organization's policy. "You have to take into account that they are in an election campaign."

Portugal has fought during more than two weeks of negotiations to escape bailout terms that might hurt its efforts to restore economic growth, with a senior member of the governing Socialist Party saying the previous two bailouts had been "a huge failure."

SOUTH KOREA

Parliament approves trade pact with EU

SEOUL | South Korea's parliament Wednesday ratified a sweeping free-trade agreement with the European Union, giving European firms a head start over the United States in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

The deal is scheduled to take effect on July 1. Europe's parliament approved it in February.

The ruling Grand National Party, which holds the majority in the 299-seat parliament, pushed forward the free-trade bill in the absence of opposition legislators. The pact was ratified in a vote of 163-1.

Opposition parties called for a delay in ratifying the deal, insisting the government should set up safeguards to protect local industries and farmers.

The main opposition Democratic Party had insisted it would not approve the legislation until there had been a full study of the impact on the economy.

The trade accord is the most ambitious the EU has negotiated with an outside partner, and the first with an Asian nation. The two sides will cut 98 percent of customs duties within five years, apart from those on a few Korean farm products.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain divided over voting reform

LONDON | British voters must decide whether to ditch decades of ballot box tradition, or go Hollywood in parliamentary elections by adopting the same voting method used for the Academy Awards.

The campaign ahead of Thursday's national referendum has elements of a blockbuster: sworn political foes banding together, stormy bust-ups across the Cabinet table, rising tensions in the country's most important "bromance" - the alliance between Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg.

Offering voters a chance to usher in electoral reform is a long-held ambition of Mr. Clegg's Liberal Democrats - who joined with Mr. Cameron's larger Conservative Party in Britain's first governing coalition since World War II after last year's inconclusive national election.

A change to Alternative Voting (AV) would generally favor the Liberal Democrats, the perpetual third-place party, while usually reducing the number of seats won by the biggest parties, the Conservatives and Labor.

Britain currently uses a first-past-the-post system, under which the candidate with the most votes - not necessarily an absolute majority - wins a seat in the House of Commons.

MEXICO

Hope is fading for missing miners

SAN JUAN DE SABINAS | Rescue workers said Wednesday there is little hope that nine missing miners have survived a coal mine explosion that killed at least five people in northern Mexico.

The gas explosion that ripped through the primitive, vertical-shaft mine early Tuesday was so powerful it seriously injured a 15-year-old boy working on a conveyor belt outside the pit.

Labor Secretary Javier Lozano said that casualty left little possibility that those inside could have withstood the force of the blast.

"The outlook is very bad," Mr. Lozano said at the scene. "The truth is that it does not allow us to hold out much hope."

A team of four rescuers who entered the mine quickly found the bodies of three miners in front of the rubble shaken loose by the blast. Mine employees later found two more bodies, and one rescuer who had been down the partially collapsed shaft said there was little chance anyone survived.

From wire dispatches and staff reports