Briefly: Rush of asylum-seekers before Australia crackdown

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AUSTRALIA

CANBERRA — Australia calls it a “closing-down sale” for people smugglers: Asylum-seekers in rickety boats are reaching its shores in record numbers ahead of a tougher deportation policy starting in September. For many migrants, the price of haste may be death.

About 150 people were aboard an overcrowded, wooden fishing boat that sank off the Indonesia coast as it headed for a remote Australian island. Only 55 people had been rescued by Thursday night.

The emergency is the latest created by a growing human smuggling trade in which thousands of would-be refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka attempt dangerous sea voyages from Indonesia to Australia.

Australia’s center-left Labor Party government announced plans this month to deter future arrivals by deporting new asylum-seekers who arrive by boat to the Pacific atoll of Nauru or to Australia’s nearest neighbor, Papua New Guinea.

The government says they will be held in tent camps for as long as they would spend in refugee camps if they had not paid people smugglers to take them to Australia.

The new approach will begin when the Nauru camp opens in September, but meanwhile the rush is on. More than 1,900 people have arrived in Australia in August — the highest monthly total on record — in hopes of accelerating a refugee claims process that can take years.

NORTH KOREA

Twin typhoons raise fears of disaster

SEOUL — Twin typhoons are renewing fears of a humanitarian crisis in North Korea, where poor drainage, widespread deforestation and crumbling infrastructure can turn even a routine rainstorm into a catastrophic flood.

Typhoon Bolaven struck the North on Tuesday and Wednesday, submerging houses and roads, ruining thousands of acres of crops and triggering landslides that buried train tracks — scenes that are all too familiar in this disaster-prone nation.

A second major storm, Typhoon Tembin, pounded the Korean Peninsula with more rains Thursday.

The storms come as North Korea is still recovering from earlier floods that killed more than 170 people and destroyed thousands of homes. That, in turn, followed a springtime drought that was the worst in a century in some areas.

Foreign aid groups contacted Thursday said they are standing by in Pyongyang but had not received new requests for help from the North Korean government. They had little information on the extent of damage and were relying on reports from state media.

The country’s wariness toward the outside world, as well as a primitive rural road system, means aid may be slow arriving, if it is allowed to come at all.

CHINA

Premier calls for action on Europe’s debt

BEIJING — Expressing alarm at Europe’s debt problems, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called on Greece, Spain and Italy to embrace budget cuts and get their finances in order after meeting Thursday with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr. Wen said Beijing is willing to keep buying European bonds but gave no sign that Beijing will bail out the eurozone.

Mrs. Merkel was in Beijing for talks aimed at boosting trade and allaying Chinese fears about Europe’s heavy government debts. China has a stake in a resolution because Europe is its biggest export market and Beijing holds billions of dollars in European bonds.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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