Two more join prime minister race
TOKYO | Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano and former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike lined up Thursday to challenge front-runner Taro Aso in the race to become prime minister, setting up a clash over economic policy as Japan teeters on the edge of recession.
The winner likely will face an early general election - possibly as soon as November - Kyodo News agency said, as the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) tries to capitalize on an anticipated wave of support for the new leader.
Mr. Yosano has pushed for the Japanese government to curb its hugh public debt, while Mr. Aso has said that increasing state spending to stimulate growth is more important in difficult economic times.
Mr. Koike’s candidacy is backed by ruling party heavyweight Hidenao Nakagawa, who argues that Japan should cut wasteful spending and boost economic growth through structural reforms before raising taxes to tackle its tattered finances.
Outspoken Mr. Aso, a 67-year-old former Olympic sharpshooter and a fan of comic books, is the top pick in voter polls to replace Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who quit suddenly this week, but some in the ruling LDP worry he could derail fiscal reform.
Elephant beats heroin habit
BEIJING | A once drug-addled elephant fed heroin-laced bananas by illegal traders will return home after emerging clean from a three-year detox program on China‘s tropical island province of Hainan.
The 4-year-old bull elephant, referred to alternately as “Big Brother” or “Xiguang” in state media reports, was captured in 2005 in southwest China by traders who used spiked bananas to control him.
After police arrested the traders and freed Xiguang a few months later, the elephant was confirmed to be suffering from withdrawal symptoms and sent to a wild animal protection center in Hainan for rehabilitation, Xinhua news agency said Thursday.
A year of methadone injections at five times the human dosage helped wean Xiguang off his addiction.
Now clean, Xiguang was expected to arrive Saturday at a wildlife park in Kunming, capital of the elephant’s home province of Yunnan on the mainland.
Ex-leader’s son freed on bail
DHAKA | Tareque Rahman, elder son and political heir of detained former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, was freed Wednesday after the Supreme Court upheld his bail, prison officials said.
Mr. Rahman was arrested in March last year and charged in 13 corruption cases filed by the country’s army-backed interim government, which took over in January 2007 following deadly political violence and ordered a crackdown on corruption, especially by politicians.
All obstacles to his release were removed when the Supreme Court last week turned down an appeal by the Anti-Corruption Commission against granting him bail.
Mr. Rahman is the senior joint secretary-general of Mrs. Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which ruled the country for two five-year terms over the past 15 years. He is a leading aspirant in a general election due in December.
He was considered one of the most influential figures in Bangladesh under his mother’s government. His release makes it likely now that the BNP - one of the two main political parties in Bangladesh - will participate in December’s elections, which would return the country to civilian rule.
Government adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman said after Mr. Rahman’s release that it would pave the way for BNP’s participation in the parliamentary elections.
Mrs. Zia completed one year in prison Wednesday.
The interim government headed by former central bank Gov. Fakhruddin Ahmed has said Mrs. Zia’s release on bail was also being processed and she, too, could come out soon, but gave no date.
Corruption swept the impoverished South Asian country of more than 140 million people during the rule of Mrs. Zia and her rival and formal Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Wazed, as well as under military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad before them.
Bangladesh had the dubious distinction of being named by Transparency International as the world’s most corrupt nation for five consecutive years this decade.
41 die as military hits rebel bases
COLOMBO | Fierce combat across Sri Lanka’s north killed at least 41 people when separatist Tamil Tiger insurgents fought back against an unceasing army push into their strongholds, the military said Wednesday.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels told the pro-rebel Web site www.tamilnet.com that they had killed 12 soldiers and seized a large weapons cache in fighting this week, among the heaviest of the year.
At several locations, the military said it had killed 28 rebels and wounded 10 on Wednesday against the loss of one soldier and eight injured.
“The LTTE continue to steadily lose manpower as the Sri Lankan security forces advance further toward the heart of [its] administrative power, Kilinochchi,” military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The army two weeks ago said it was within artillery distance of Kilinochchi and has since thrust forward on four fronts to try and take a town it considers a strategic and symbolic prize. It has steadily captured rebel strongholds over the last two weeks.
No rise in violence seen after talks end
MANILA | The Philippines does not expect an escalation in violence in the south despite its decision to end 11 years of peace talks with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the president’s spokesman said Thursday.
Jesus Dureza said the majority of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remained committed to the peace process and that an army offensive in the southern Mindanao region was directed against a small group of renegades.
He said the turning point in the government’s decision Wednesday to end talks with the rebels was the MILF leadership’s refusal to surrender two rogue commanders blamed for last month’s attacks on Christian-dominated villages in the south that killed more than 200 people and displaced 500,000.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has vowed to end nearly 40 years of Muslim rebellion in the south by 2010. The revolt has killed 120,000 people and stunted growth in a region believed to be sitting on huge mineral and hydrocarbon deposits.
From wire dispatches and staff reports