- - Thursday, April 12, 2012

AFGHANISTAN

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday he is considering calling presidential elections a year early to lessen the strain that could be caused by foreign combat troops leaving Afghanistan at the same time as the nation is holding a national ballot.

The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2014, and the majority of NATO combat forces will leave Afghanistan by the end of that year.

At that time, Mr. Karzai will be at the end of his second five-year term, and the constitution bars him from running for a third term.

Holding the vote in 2013 also could mean Mr. Karzai would step down earlier.

Mr. Karzai, who spoke during a press conference with visiting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said no final decision has been made and that such a decision would take a long time.

PHILIPPINES

China sends third ship in standoff with Philippines

MANILA — China deployed a third ship Thursday in an area of the disputed South China Sea where a tense standoff with Philippine vessels has dragged on, sparking alarm in Manila.

Chinese and Filipino diplomats have been scrambling to resolve the dangerous impasse at the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines that erupted Tuesday.

A Philippine warship attempted to arrest several Chinese fishermen accused of illegal entry and poaching, but was prevented by the arrival of two Chinese surveillance ships.

One of the Chinese ships blocked the entrance to a lagoon at the shoal, where at least eight Chinese fishing vessels were anchored.

The Chinese ships also ordered the Philippine warship to leave Scarborough, claiming Chinese sovereignty over the rich fishing ground.

But the warship has stayed put, arguing it is Philippine territory.

MYANMAR

Cameron signals openness on Myanmar sanctions

PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA — British Prime Minister David Cameron has signaled he wouldn’t oppose easing sanctions on Myanmar if he is satisfied with the country’s reforms.

Mr. Cameron is due to visit Myanmar on Friday as the first leader of a major Western country to travel there since the relaxation of military rule.

He told reporters while visiting Malaysia on Thursday that “just as Britain played a leading role in Europe in placing tough sanctions on that regime to encourage it to reform, so … if we’re satisfied that real change is taking place, we should be the ones not being backward in our response.”

INDONESIA

Islanders feel lucky after escape from quakes

BANDA ACEH — Residents surveying damage from two powerful earthquakes that reignited memories of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami said Thursday they could hardly believe their luck.

Five people died from heart attacks, and a few others were injured as mobs used cars and motorcycles to flee to high ground in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh.

But aside from cracks in the walls of houses and structural damage to one bridge, you would hardly know anything happened, said Usman Basyah, smiling as he handed change to customers at his small street stall.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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