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Thaksin meetings in Dubai not about Cabinet posts, says Yingluck

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

The Dubai meeting over the weekend had no linkage to the formation of a Cabinet, Thailand’s designate prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday (July 10), dismissing speculation about the involvement of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra in allocating Cabinet seats.

“I think the meeting was personal,” she said in reference to the talks between Thaksin and Chart Thai Pattana chief adviser Banharn Silapa-archa.

A large group of allies, including Banharn, Yaowapha Wongsawat and her husband Somchai, paid a private visit to Dubai, which many saw as a bid to seek Thaksin’s blessing on the ministerial quotas.

Banharn’s trip coincided with reports about Pheu Thai’s opposition to allocating two key portolios, Agriculture and Tourism, to his party.

But Yingluck insisted she would form her Cabinet in Bangkok and that she had not finalised her decision on the matter.

“As far as I know Banharn is being barred from meddling in politics,” she said.

She said the Cabinet line-up should complete within one to two weeks after the endorsement of MPs-elect by the Election Commission, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow (July 12).

She reiterated her earlier remarks that she would pick qualified individuals from inside and outside her party.

In regard to her tentative meeting with chief royal adviser General Prem Tinsulanonda, she said she was willing to meet with all leading figures if the opportunity presents itself after the issuing of the royal command on her appointment as prime minister.

Reacting to Thaksin’s remarks that her government should bring about reconciliation within two years, she said the reconciliation process should hinge on its completion by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission led by Kanit Na Nakorn.

She pledged her government’s full cooperation with the commission to complete its job.

She said her priority at this juncture was to complete drafting her government’s policy statement. Under the Constitution, the incoming government must seek and receive parliamentary approval of its policy statement before assuming office.

Pheu Thai MP-elect Snoh Thienthong said the policy draft was progressing satisfactorily with the translating of campaign platforms into government action plans.

In a related development, Chart Thai Pattana MP-elect Sanan Kachornprasart said he had no involvement in the allocation of Cabinet seats. Sanan said his party had designated its leader Chumpol Silapa-archa to negotiate the ministerial quotas.

Sanan made his remarks in the face of intense horse-trading negotiations among coalition partners.

He said he was taking a rest to regain his strength after a long campaign trail, dismissing rumours that he was lobbying for a vice ministerial portfolio for his son Siriwat.

 

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Japanese govt plans nuke safety checks in 2 stages

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

The safety of nuclear power plants will be assessed in two stages, according to new standards announced by the government Monday.

The first stage will examine nuclear reactors that are currently suspended for regular inspections, to determine how well their important facilities can withstand disasters of unexpected severity. Based on the findings of the examinations, the government will decide if the reactors can be restarted.

In the second stage, the government will make comprehensive assessments of whether to continue running nuclear reactors now in operation.

The second-stage assessments will be based on new, stricter safety standards based on stress tests employed by European countries.

However, the government also said the specific components of the inspections will be decided by the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, leaving it unclear when the operations of currently idle reactors might be resumed.

Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano announced the new standards at a press conference Monday (July 11) after Prime Minister Naoto Kan; Edano; economy, trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda and nuclear crisis minister Goshi Hosono held talks on the matter in the morning.

To help dispel the concerns of local residents concerning nuclear power plants, both the Nuclear Safety Commission and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will be involved in decisions on the restart of suspended nuclear reactors.

The first-stage assessments will be conducted after regular inspections, which are conducted at least every 13 months. Second-stage assessments will be done at longer intervals.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will finalise inspection details after presenting them to the Nuclear Safety Commission. First-stage assessments, which will be carried out more frequently, will likely be simpler than second-stage assessments.

Edano said a draft of safety assessment standards will likely be compiled by the end of this week.

“(The standards) will be written within days. I don’t think it’s going to take months or weeks,” Edano said.

However, it remains uncertain when the government will conduct the assessments, which has perplexed electric companies.

Of the nation’s 54 nuclear reactors, only 17 are currently in operation. With electricity demand expected to peak soon, the government hopes to restart the currently idle reactors.

“The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is working to gather information and analyze in detail [likely power demand this summer]. The National Policy Unit also is discussing the matter,” Edano said.

Edano said the government is studying measures to deal with possible electricity shortages in case the idle reactors are not reactivated, but he did not elaborate.

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Thailand expected to have new PM by mid-August

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

By mid-August, Thailand is expected to have a new prime minister, officials from the Secretariat of the Cabinet and from Parliament said yesterday (July 11).

A Cabinet meeting has been scheduled today as the last meeting for the outgoing Abhisit Vejjajiva government. Among items on the agenda is the preparation for the opening of the House of Representatives, said a source from the Secretariat of the Cabinet who asked not to be named.

The Election Commission is scheduled today (July 12) to endorse the first batch of successful candidates as members of Parliament. Only winning MP candidates who are clear of complaints or opposition related to the July 3 election can be endorsed. The EC has 30 days for investigation of challenged cases.

The Constitution requires the first House convention within 30 days after the election with at least ȿ per cent of the total MPs attending.

“From its initial meeting, the Election Commission had informed that the endorsement of the second batch of MPs would be on July 19 and the third batch on the 26th. However, the Secretariat of the Cabinet asked the EC to approve at least ᒛ MPs in the second round, as July 26 would be too close to the deadline of August 1,” the source said.

PM’s deputy secretary-general Panitan Wattanayagorn said the Cabinet would approve the preparation in principle, but it would be for the EC to designate the date.

Cabinet secretary-general Ampon Kitti-ampon will coordinate with the EC, Panitan said.

A Parliament source, who also asked not to be named, said the EC would approve the election results and endorse at least 475 MPs by next week. Abhisit is expected to submit documents for the royal command for the House of Representatives’ opening ceremony by July 20, then the first House convention can take place in the next few days.

The MPs will vote to select a House Speaker and deputies during the first House meeting, the source said. The Speaker can call a meeting to select the prime minister in the following week.

A senior source from the EC who asked not to be named said more than 300 MPs were expected to be endorsed today.

The EC will follow the advice of its legal team in first endorsing Pheu Thai MP-elect Jatuporn Promphan, a red-shirt leader now detained in jail and whose qualification is controversial. The EC can later ask the House Speaker to file a complaint with the Constitution Court to consider his qualification.

The election has passed so it is beyond the EC’s authority to consider Jatuporn’s qualification, the source said.

Election Administration Office director Metha Silaphan said the difference between constituency and party-list ballots was actually 167,0Ǡ, not 80,000 as previously said.

“After examination, we found 90 per cent of the difference came from advance voting, both abroad and outside constituency voting, as the ballot cards were put in envelopes. An extra ballot card was mistakenly given to a voter,” he said.

Metha said errors also occurred while recording voter-turnout information. A number of 11,681 was recorded while it was actually 101,681 voters.

Of 46,939,548 eligible voters, 35겼,370 voted for party-list MPs while 35,220,537 voted for constituency MPs, Metha said.

In a separate development, Democrat deputy spokesman Boonyod Sukthinthai filed a complaint with the EC to investigate whether the Pheu Thai Party violated

election law by giving benefits to the media, as claimed in an e-mail to a former Thai Rak Thai executive. He also asked the EC to verify qualifications of Pheu Thai MP candidates including Jatuporn.

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Malaysia ‘overreacts with mass arrests’

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

The “soft authoritarian� government of Malaysia overreacted by arresting 1,667 demonstrators who were demanding electoral reforms over the weekend, activists said.

“The response by the Malaysian government and security personnel was so overwhelming that they violated human rights principles in their efforts to control freedom of expression,â€�¿½ Indonesia’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), Rafendi Djamin, told The Jakarta Post on Monday (July 11).

“(The arrests) should not have happened. Every single citizen should have the right to… express their opinions and assemble,â€� said Rafendi, who is also the executive director of the Human Rights Working Group.

Malaysian authorities made the mass arrests and used tear gas on the approximately 20,000 demonstrators who marched under the slogan ��Bersih 2.0� (cleaning 2.0) for electoral reforms on Saturday, although they freed the arrested demonstrators on Sunday without filing any formal charges.

Amnesty International called it “the worst campaign of repression weâ��™ve seen in (Malaysia) for yearsâ€�, while the Human Rights Watch said it was a “maelstrom of the Malaysian authorities’ own makingÃ�€�.

Rafendi said civil society members and opposition groups often rallied against the ruling government ahead of or during elections.

“But no repressive measures such as arrests were carried out against the demonstrators. On the other hand, (the Malaysian government) had already begun arresting people one week before (Saturday’s rally),� he said.

“If violence takes place like this here, at the end of the day, civilians who are unarmed will be the victims.�

But even as Indonesiaâ€�„¢s AICHR representative, he could do nothing to stop what the Malaysian government was doing, he said.

University of Indonesia Southeast Asian political expert Cecep Hidayat said, in comparison to Indonesia, Malaysia was not a democratic country and was even classified as ��soft authoritarian� in several pieces of literature. “Malaysia has so many undemocratic policies. It has an Internal Security Act, which can suppress the freedom of expression and assembly,� he said.

He said activists and the opposition were demanding electoral reforms because Malaysia’s existing electoral law only benefited its three major parties – the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which is the largest party and is comprised of Malay descendants, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) that represents the Malaysian Chinese ethnicity, and the Malaysian India Congress (MIC) that represents the Indian community.

Rallies that were carried out on the weekend were to show to “locals, people in the region and the international community that there is something undemocratic in Malaysia and thus it needs to be reformed�.

“The young people in Malaysia now need to realise that there is injustice and authoritarianism that their government is enacting and raise this issue before the opposition and let it be a snowball rolling on in social networks,Ã�€� Cecep said.

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Political parties in turf war over Karachi

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

After four days of ethnic bloodletting that claimed more than 90 lives last week, a semblance of calm has returned to Karachi, Pakistan’s business capital and biggest metropolis.

Yet, as the Pakistani Rangers – who have orders to shoot on sight – maintain a tight vigil over the city, fresh tensions are rising between President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the locally influential Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

At a press conference held early yesterday (July 11) morning, MQM leaders accused the government of conspiring against the party by opening negotiations with a breakaway faction and using pressure tactics, including cutting off phone lines to its party office and even planning an attack on its premises.

“We will take the war to the streets,” warned Anis Qaimkhani, deputy convenor of the MQM. “Do not push us against the wall.”

The drawing of new battle lines is bad news for Pakistan and its most vital metropolis, which contributes two-thirds of government revenue. It has the headquarters of the nation’s biggest banks and companies, in addition to being the country’s No. 1 port and naval base.

At the heart of the conflict is a tussle between the two parties for influence in Karachi, the capital of Sind province.

The PPP controls the Sind hinterland and holds power in the national government.

The MQM has its origins in a group consisting of Urdu-speaking immigrants who left India during the bloody partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Its power base is urban Karachi and its leader has lived in self-exile in London for decades.

Sindhis, who feel overrun by the immigrant Mohajirs, who are the core of the MQM, have always resented their presence in their main city.

The worst years of the tension were in 1992 and 1995, when the military-backed government took on the Mohajirs. Thousands were killed in clashes in and around Karachi.

New complications have arisen in the past two decades, resulting from a huge influx of Pashtun refugees from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan, where conditions are tough, especially since the United States-led war on terror erupted after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

Today, more Pashtuns live in Karachi than in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is believed that an increasing number of Pashtuns are sympathetic towards the Taleban operating on both sides of the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. This grates on both the PPP and its opponent, the MQM.

Such suspicions and antipathy have led to targeted killings of individuals, and at times, attacks on groups of people.

Alongside the influx of refugees, Karachi has witnessed migrations across the city itself, as Pashtuns seek out areas where they feel safer and Sindhis keep a wary eye on their Mohajir brothers.

Nearly 800 people were killed in Karachi in targeted killings and bombings last year. There have been as many deaths, if not more, in the first six months of the year alone.

Analysts say the main Pashtun party, the Awami National Party (ANP), is a moderate force, but is compelled by ethnic loyalties to lend support to Pashtun hotheads.

An uneasy MQM, trying to defend its own interests, has begun to attack the ANP in recent months, adding one more corner in the fight.

Mr Imtiaz Gul, a respected Pakistani commentator, calls it ‘a turf war between the MQM, ANP and PPP, for territory and political space in this big city’.

Both the ANP and the MQM are coalition partners of the ruling PPP. Although MQM-PPP ties have ruptured, the ruling party has reportedly refused to discuss a parting of ways.

Meanwhile, the ground situation is worsening, as killings continue and key infrastructural facilities are destroyed.

Warned counterterrorism expert B. Raman, India’s best-known analyst on Pakistan: “Karachi stands in danger of turning into another Beirut of the 1970s and 1980s if the government does not wake up to the implications of the unending clashes.”

“The situation in the city is as serious as that in the Pashtun belt.”

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