Khamis, 7 April 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

The Star Online: World Updates

N.Korea assembly meets, no mention of leader Kim, or son

Posted: 07 Apr 2011 06:48 AM PDT

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea's rubber-stamp assembly met on Thursday and approved a slight increase in the budget for 2011 but froze defence spending, the official KCNA news agency said, with no mention of leader Kim Jong-il or his son, his handpicked successor.

The Supreme People's Assembly adopted a budget increase of 7.5 percent and froze defence spending at 15.8 percent, KCNA said. Some Western analysts put the reclusive state's spending on defence at as much as twice that, in terms of its proportion of the budget.

The assembly, as usual, did not give a figure for the size of the budget in monetary terms.

The assembly also appointed a key aide of leader Kim as minister for people's security and made a fresh appointment to the powerful National Defence Commission. But his son, Kim Jong-un, did not appear to take on a commission post as expected.

Kim Jong-un, the leader's youngest known son who is believed to be in his late 20s, emerged last year when he was named a four-star general and given an important post in the ruling Workers' Party.

Before the assembly, there had been speculation among analysts that the son might become his father's top lieutenant in the defence commission, perhaps taking the post of first vice chairman, left vacant by a long-time ally of his father's, who died last year.

But there was no sign of any such appointment on Thursday.

Tension over the succession is believed to be behind some North Korean hostility towards rival South Korea, analysts of the secretive state say.

The assembly session is the first major gathering of the North's political elite since North Korean forces shelled a South Korean island in November, killing four people.

That led to sharp increase in tension with the U.S-backed South and fears of conflict.

The attack on the island came eight months after a South Korean warship was sunk by a torpedo. South Korea accused the North of sinking the ship. The North denied any involvement.

In between the attacks, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment programme, opening a second route to make a nuclear bomb along with its plutonium programme.

Some analysts said the grandstanding and hostility might be aimed at paving the way for the son's succession, and that he himself may even have been behind some of the incidents.

Following months of threats of war and retaliation, the two sides have recently sought to engage in dialogue, although the first meetings by their militaries in February broke down.

North Korea has conducted nuclear tests two times and it is believed to be pushing ahead with work for a third test, which could come within the next few months, analysts have said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Assad takes more steps to appease Kurds

Posted: 07 Apr 2011 06:16 AM PDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's leader issued a decree on Thursday granting nationality to people in the eastern al-Hasaka region where many Kurds live, part of efforts to ease resentment over nearly five decades of strict Baathist rule.

It was not immediately clear how many would be given nationality, but at least 150,000 Kurds are registered as foreigners as a result of a 1962 census in al-Hasaka.

Syrian emigrants shout slogans during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy in Sofia March 31, 2011. The sign on the bottom reads: "Free". (REUTERS/Oleg Popov)

But Kurdish leader Habib Ibrahim said Kurds would press their non-violent struggle for civil rights and democracy to replace autocratic rule despite President Bashar al-Assad's decree.

"Our cause is democracy for the whole of Syria. Citizenship is the right of every Syrian. It is not a favour. It is not the right of anyone to grant," Ibrahim, who heads the Democratic Unity Kurdish Party, told Reuters.

State television said that Assad had fired the governor of Homs province, one of the areas affected by nearly three weeks of protests calling for greater freedoms. Replacing the governor was one of the main demands of protesters last week.

In another move to appease the ethnic Kurds, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 Kurds were released on Tuesday, more than a year after they were arrested in the eastern city of Raqqa.

Assad also met provincial leaders from the Kurdish east of the country earlier in the week to listen to their demands, the official news agency reported.

Assad cracked down on ethnic Kurds, who make up about 10-15 percent of Syria's 20 million people, when they launched violent demonstrations against the state in 2004.

Once unthinkable popular protests have shaken mainly Sunni Muslim Syria for nearly three weeks, with demonstrators demanding an end to emergency law and one-party rule by the Baath Party.

Syria's ruling hierarchy, packed with minority Alawites, has tolerated no dissent and has used emergency laws to justify arbitrary arrests, including those of other minorities such as Kurds who say they are discriminated against.

In a move to mollify conservative Muslims, Syria also lifted on Wednesday a ban on teachers wearing the full face veil and ordered the closure of the country's only casino.

The pro-democracy protests first erupted in the southern city of Deraa, where many Sunni Muslim tribes resent the power and wealth accumulated by the Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shi'ite Islam.

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Mariam Karouny; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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