- - Thursday, October 13, 2011

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

Bangkok rushes to dig canals to prevent imminent flooding

BANGKOK | Workers hurriedly dredged canals and cut new waterways around Thailand’s capital on Thursday in an attempt to protect the city from the country’s worst floods in decades.

At least 283 people have been killed since late July by floods and mudslides that have devastated rice crops and shut dozens of factories.

Bangkok has been mostly spared so far, but areas on its outskirts have been inundated, and authorities fear that flood waters rushing from the north will combine with rains in the next few days to flood the city.

Government spokesman Wim Rungwattanajinda said the main canals east and west of Bangkok will be dredged by Friday to allow more water to flow from flooded northern provinces. He said authorities also are digging canal shortcuts to help drive water to the sea.

“This is the best method at the moment” to protect Bangkok, Mr. Wim told the Associated Press. “We are all working against time.”

JAPAN

Radiation hot spot linked to bottles in house

TOKYO | Japanese officials investigating a small radiation hot spot in Tokyo have tracked its source to old bottles stored in the empty basement of a house.

Tokyo’s Setagaya city council had detected radioactivity exceeding that of an evacuation area about 25 miles from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at a roadside spot after concerned parents monitoring for radiation sought further tests.

Mayor Nobuto Hosaka said Thursday that the cause is most likely the unspecified content of several old bottles, not the nuclear plant. He said radioactivity from the bottles exceeded the measurable limit on a low-dose counter.

BHUTAN

King marries commoner in elaborate ceremony

PUNAKHA | The fifth Dragon King came down from his golden throne to place a silk crown upon the head of his bride.

Monks chanted in celebration, and she took her seat beside him Thursday, becoming the new queen of the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan.

The wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck to his commoner bride, Jetsun Pema, 21, has captivated a nation that had grown impatient with their 31-year-old bachelor king’s lack of urgency to take a wife and start a family since his father handed power to him five years ago.

Thousands of Bhutanese from the surrounding villages joined the king and queen at their wedding reception at a fairground outside the country’s most sacred monastery fortress, where a slate of dancers performed traditional routines for the new couple.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Plane carrying 32 crashes in wilderness

PORT MORESBY | A plane carrying 32 people crashed in the wilds of Papua New Guinea on Thursday with an unknown number of survivors, an official said.

The Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft crashed while flying from Lae to Madang on the South Pacific island nation’s north coast, Accident Investigation Commission spokesman Sid O’Toole said.

The twin-propeller plane crashed 12 miles south of Madang, he said.

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