- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

CHINA

China, S. Korea discuss N. Korea post-Kim Jong-il

BEIJING | The presidents of South Korea and China agreed Monday to work together to achieve peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, in their first summit since Kim Jong-il’s death opened the chance for major changes in North Korea.

While North Korea is often a topic when Chinese and South Korean leaders meet, the death of its leader last month pushed it to the center of the summit, which was to have focused on mending frayed relations over Chinese fishing fleet incursions in South Korean waters and Beijing’s support for Pyongyang.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao exchanged “candid views on the situation on the Korean peninsula which has recently faced a crucial moment” and agreed to work together to achieve peace and stability there, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.

Mr. Hu told Mr. Lee that China is willing to make “unremitting efforts” to safeguard peace and stability between the Koreas, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The two leaders also agreed to begin domestic procedures needed to start negotiations on a free trade agreement, the Blue House said.

SYRIA

Troops open fire as observers visit

BEIRUT | Syrian troops fired on protesters Monday in the restive city of Homs as Arab League observers toured the area to see whether President Bashar Assad’s regime is abiding by its pledge to halt the 10-month-old crackdown on dissent, activists said.

In the capital, Damascus, thousands held prayers for those killed since the uprising began in March. Christian and Muslim leaders attended the service, and throngs packed the city’s Holy Cross church, its yards and a nearby street.

The 165 foreign monitors are supposed to be ensuring that Syria complies with the Arab League plan stipulating the regime stop killing protesters; remove heavy weaponry, such as tanks, from all cities; free all political prisoners; and permit the entry of human rights groups and foreign journalists. Syria agreed to the plan on Dec. 19.

But the crackdown has not stopped, and opposition activists say about 450 people have killed by the regime since observers began work on Dec. 21.

The U.N. estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,000 people have been killed in political violence since March. Since that report, opposition activists say hundreds more have died.

MYANMAR

Australia eases sanctions against Myanmar

YANGON | Australia said Monday it is easing some restrictions on members of Myanmar’s ruling elite in response to political reforms by its military-backed government.

The decision came as the party of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi began gearing up to contest by-elections on April 1.

Her National League for Democracy party has cautiously endorsed reforms instituted by President Thein Sein that include legalizing labor unions and freeing some political prisoners.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced the easing of sanctions during a visit to Indonesia, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department said.

IRAQ

Car bombs kill 17, target Shiit pilgrims

BAGHDAD | Three car bombs exploded Monday evening in the Iraqi capital and killed at least 17 people, authorities said. At least one appeared to target Shiite pilgrims, sinking the country deeper into a new wave of sectarian violence.

A second car bomb struck near a police vehicle in the Shiite neighborhood of al-Shaab, killing three policemen and four other people, police and hospital officials said. Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb killed two Shiite pilgrims in a Baghdad suburb.

The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence primarily targeting Shiites that has killed more than 90 people in less than a week.

GREECE

Picasso, Mondrian paintings stolen in pre-dawn heist

ATHENS | Thieves carried out a well-organized, pre-dawn heist at Greece’s biggest state art museum on Monday, taking two oil paintings by 20th century masters Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian, police said.

A police statement said the burglars who entered through a balcony door also took a pen-and-ink drawing of a religious scene by Italian 16th century painter Guglielmo Caccia.

Police said the heist took about seven minutes. The thieves had intentionally set off alarms on several occasions since Sunday evening without actually entering the building, prompting guards to disable at least one.

The burglars still triggered a sensor in the exhibition area, but a guard only got there in time to see a man running off.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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