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MYANMAR

Group calls for release of all political prisoners

YANGON | A human rights group and prominent activist on Thursday called for Myanmar to free all of its political prisoners after only about 10 percent of an estimated 2,000 were released under a presidential amnesty.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said the amnesty for 6,359 convicts was insincere and primarily an effort to appease the international community. It estimated that at least 207 political prisoners had been freed.

“The use of amnesties by past regimes has come at times of mounting international pressure and been used as tokens of change, rather than substance of change,” it said in a statement. “This week’s prisoner release does not suggest anything different from earlier amnesties.”

A major release of political detainees has been eagerly awaited by Myanmar’s opposition, as well as foreign governments and the U.N., as a gesture toward liberalization by the elected government after decades of harsh military rule.

A failure to release a significant number could hamper the country’s efforts to burnish its human rights record and to have Western economic and political sanctions lifted.

NEW ZEALAND

No decision on pumping oil from ship grounded on reef

TAURANGA | A cargo ship that already has spilled hundreds of tons of oil stayed perched on a New Zealand reef on Thursday while salvage crews debated whether the remaining fuel can be pumped from the vessel before it breaks up.

Environmentalists have warned of a disaster for wildlife if all of the ship’s 1,870 tons of oil and 220 tons of diesel is allowed to spill into the ocean.

Rescue crews have to stabilize the ship that is slowly being battered to pieces by pounding waves before any transfer of oil can start - but its severe structural damage is making the task more difficult.

Meanwhile, several of the 88 containers that have fallen off its deck had washed ashore by Thursday, and authorities confirmed one container that toppled overboard contained a hazardous substance. However, an official said it should not pose a major threat.

Heavy seas had kept salvage crews away from the 775-foot vessel for days, but a break in the weather allowed three team members to be winched aboard the Liberian-flagged Rena, which ran aground Oct. 5 on Astrolabe Reef, 14 miles from Tauranga Harbour on New Zealand’s North Island.

THAILAND

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