- - Sunday, January 2, 2011

PAKISTAN

Key party pulls out of ruling coalition

ISLAMABAD | The second largest party in Pakistan’s ruling coalition said Sunday it is quitting the government and joining the opposition, depriving the country’s pro-U.S. government of a parliamentary majority and threatening its future existence.

It was not immediately clear whether the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) move will prompt the downfall of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s government.

But it is almost certain to distract Pakistani officials at a time when the U.S. is pushing Pakistan to step up cooperation in turning around the war in neighboring Afghanistan, and a new government could be less friendly to U.S. interests and less vocal in opposing the Taliban.

The MQM decided to withdraw from the ruling coalition because of the government’s poor performance in addressing problems like rising inflation, as well as the corruption weighing down average Pakistanis, said MQM lawmaker Haider Abbas Rizvi.

The move follows the party’s decision last week to pull its ministers from the Cabinet.

SOUTH KOREA

Lee offers North olive branch, sword

SEOUL | South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak on Monday said the door for inter-Korea dialogue was “still open” and Seoul was willing to “drastically enhance economic cooperation” if Pyongyang showed sincerity.

Relations between the neighbors plunged after the North shelled a border island in November, killing four people, including two civilians. But in his New Year policy address to the nation, Mr. Lee held out hope for improved ties.

“If the North exhibits sincerity, we have both the will and the plan to drastically enhance economic cooperation together with the international community,” he said.

But he also warned the communist North, saying another threat against “an inch of our territory” will be met with “stern, strong responses.”

BRAZIL

New president spends first full day in office

BRASILIA | Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, began a busy first full day in office Sunday meeting with foreign dignitaries after pledging to build on the policies of her hugely popular predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The 63-year-old Mrs. Rousseff, who was Mr. Lula’s former Cabinet chief, assumed the presidency Saturday in a carefully staged ceremony in Brazil’s starkly modernist federal capital.

Sunday, she met with South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik, Spanish crown Prince Felipe, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Later, she was to confer with her Finance Minister Guido Mantega and new Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. Mrs. Rousseff has pledged a strong emphasis on emerging countries like Brazil, one of the so-called BRICS emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

And she also wants to improve ties with the United States, and most likely will take a more critical stand with Iran, analysts say. Mr. Lula da Silva irked the United States with his friendly embrace of Tehran.

ISRAEL

Netanyahu wants talks with Abbas

JERUSALEM | Israel’s prime minister said Sunday that he’s ready to sit down with the Palestinian Authority president for continuous one-on-one talks until they reach a peace deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his statement on Sunday in an apparent bid to breathe life into stalled Mideast peace negotiations.

Talks broke down in late September, just three weeks after they were launched at the White House, after the expiration of a limited Israeli freeze on settlement construction.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says Israel must halt all settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians before talks can resume.

Mr. Netanyahu has refused, but says he is ready to discuss all “core” issues with Mr. Abbas. Those include setting the final borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, determining the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and resolving the competing claims to the city of Jerusalem.

Over the weekend, Mr. Abbas said he believed a peace deal could be reached within two months if Mr. Netanyahu showed “good will.”

He suggested that Mr. Netanyahu adopt the positions of his more dovish predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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