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Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday under house arrest

(AFP) - Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi spent her 65th birthday yesterday under house arrest, as activists held protests around the globe and world leaders called for the junta to free her.
The military regime has kept the Nobel Laureate in detention for almost 15 years, and she has been barred from running in upcoming elections that critics have denounced as a sham aimed at entrenching the generals’ power.
Suu Kyi’s party won the last vote in 1990, but was never allowed to take office. A UN working group this week pronounced her detention a breach of international human rights law, prompting new calls for her release.
In a birthday message, US President Barack Obama hailed Suu Kyi’s “determination, courage and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change”.
“I once again call on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and to allow them to build a more stable, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of all its citizens,” he said, using the country’s former name.
The woman known in Myanmar simply as “The Lady”, remains the most powerful symbol of freedom in a country where the army rules with an iron fist.
The opposition leader is expected to spend a quiet day at her lakeside mansion, where she lives with two female assistants, cut off from the outside world, without telephone or Internet access.
Her supporters plan to throw a small party at one of their houses in northern Yangon, in her absence.
Members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) are planting about 20,000 saplings around Myanmar, to mark her birthday, and plan to send spicy food to her home to share with workers doing renovations.
“We believe Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s political spirit will keep growing as long as the trees grow,” said lawyer Aung Thein, an active NLD figure. “Daw” is a term of respect in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Events to mark her birthday are scheduled in cities around the world, ranging from candlelight vigils in Tokyo and Auckland to a solidarity rally in Washington.


Colombia mine blast, 70 feared dead

(AFP) The search for more than 50 workers missing and presumed dead after a fiery explosion at a Colombian coal mine, resumed tentatively Friday (18) after 18 bodies were recovered, amid fears of a new blast.
At least 70 miners in total were likely killed in the blast which ripped through underground shafts late Wednesday (16) near the city of Medellin, incinerating several of the workers inside, authorities said. A single miner was found alive. Sixteen of the badly burned bodies have been identified with the help of experts, and their families notified.
“Most of the bodies were unrecognisable, so it was necessary for relatives to help us by providing some characteristics such as tattoos, scars, photographs and dental records,” said Amaga health department director Javier Araque.
Even as the search continued Friday, mourners held the first funerals for the dead, with hundreds of people attending an open-air mass in Amaga for the first four victims released to relatives.
Dozens of relatives meanwhile continued their desperate vigil near the site of the disaster, anxious for news of missing loved ones, but rescue and recovery operations proceeded haltingly, out of concern the mine was still unsafe due to a build up of toxic gases.
“We resumed operations in the morning, but we are proceeding slowly, intermittently, because we are acting according to the safety conditions,” said Byron Restrepo, who heads the rescue corps for Colombia’s mining institute Ingeominas.
Officials said an apparent build up of gas caused the explosion in the San Fernando mine, and that the prospect of finding survivors was poor.
“We have determined that there were 71 miners in the mine at the time of the explosion, and we are investigating whether there are any others,” the mayor of Amaga in northwestern Colombia, Auxilio Zapata, told AFP.
“The high concentration of gasses in the mine could trigger a new explosion at any moment,” Restrepo said, adding that operations would ramp up quickly when gas levels drop sufficiently. Although the mine is seen as one of the most sophisticated of the region, Amaga deputy city council chairman Eduardo Acevedo told AFP that it lacked adequate gas ventilation.


Moderate quake hits India’s Andaman Islands

(AFP) - A moderate 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit India’s Andaman Islands yesterday, seismologists said, causing damage to infrastructure on the archipelago.
The quake shook people from their sleep, causing alarm on a string of islands that were hit by the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but there were no reports of casualties.
The USGS said the quake struck at a depth of 27 kilometres (17 miles), with the epicentre 180 kilometres from Port Blair on the Andaman Islands, in the Indian Ocean.
No tsunami warning was issued.
Government officials said there were no reports of loss of life or injury, but many roads, offices and shops suffered damage.
“There are visible cracks on the roads and eight government buildings have reported damage,” said a senior official at the disaster control room in Diglipur island in North Andaman, 342 kilometres (212 miles) from Port Blair
A police control room official in Port Blair said efforts were being made to contact some of the more remote islands.
The 572 Andaman and Nicobar Islands, home to more than 350,000 people, are some of India’s most easterly territories, flanked by the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
The Andaman Sea area witnesses frequent earthquakes caused by the meeting of the Indian tectonic plate with the Burmese microplate, along an area known as the Andaman trench.


China floods, over a million evacuated
(AFP) - More than a million people living along rivers in China’s south have been evacuated, with water rising to dangerous levels, State media said yesterday, as torrential rain continues to wreak havoc.
The government said more than 1.4 million residents of riverbanks and low-lying areas had had to move, according to the official China Daily.
Deputy Director- Office of State Flood Control & Drought Relief Headquarters, Zhang, Zhitong said China’s second largest waterway, the Pearl River, which crosses the south, had breached warning marks on Thursday (17).
Torrential and virtually unrelenting rain has battered large swathes of China’s south since Sunday (13), triggering devastating floods and landslides that have killed 69 people.
According to the nation’s civil affairs ministry, another 44 people are missing and the cost of the disaster has reached 6.5 billion yuan (US$ 950 million).
The National Meteorological Centre warned yesterday of more rainstorms to come, a day after it issued an orange storm alert -- just one level lower than the nation’s most serious red alert.
“There will be heavy rain over the next three days, and flood-control work will face enormous challenges,” it said in a statement, adding that some of the rainfall in the south was up to three times larger than normal years.


Sweden’s Republicans have soft spot for royal family

(AFP) Too expensive, overexposed and archaic: Despite the feel-good coverage of Crown Princess Victoria’s upcoming nuptials, opposition to the monarchy in Sweden is growing.
But even opponents admit to having a soft spot for the royals.
“We like the people,” Mona Abou-Jeib Broshammar, who leads Sweden’s Republican Association, said of the royal family.
“They don’t do any harm.” The problem, she stressed, is “they inherit the power.”
Most of the media worked itself into a frenzy, ahead of yesterday’s wedding between Victoria, 32, and 36-year-old luxury gym owner Daniel Westling, with breathless coverage of preparations.
At the same time however, opposition to the monarchy has soared.
A recent poll showed the number of Swedes who wanted to abolish the monarchy, had more than doubled over the past decade, to 28%.


Kyrgyz leader wades into ethnic firestorm

(Wall Street Journal) This Central Asian nation’s interim leader toured the shattered city at the epicentre of ethnic violence that threatens to rip her country apart, and promised to rebuild. But her four-hour visit Friday (18) did little to overcome the Uzbek minority’s deep distrust in a government dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, citing security concerns, didn’t set foot in Uzbek neighbourhoods, which bore the brunt of a four-day spree of killing, burning and looting, and have isolated themselves behind makeshift barricades. She fended off charges that the army joined with marauding gangs of Kyrgyz civilians, and that her government moved sluggishly to contain them, and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
Ms. Otunbayeva suggested the death toll could be close to 2,000—or 10 times the 192 counted by the Health Ministry—while the United Nations raised its estimate of the number of displaced and others needing emergency aid to as many as one million.
“Leave us some hope!” she told residents gathered in Osh’s main square. “Stop saying that we are not working. Our forces say they are coping.”
Yet the violence, which erupted June 10, leaves the interim government struggling to assert authority in the south, and challenges Ms. Otunbayeva’s shaky hold on power, as well as US strategic interests.


 News in brief                                                                                                                                              

Taser use in airport death unjustified: Inquiry

(AFP) - A special prosecutor will look into criminal charges against four policemen who confronted a Polish traveller who died after being stunned with a Taser gun, officials said Friday.
Robert Dziekanski, 40, died in late 2007, just minutes after being stunned five times with a Taser gun, and then restrained by four policemen at the airport in this Pacific Coast metropolis.
Airport workers called police after Dziekanski, a nervous first-time traveller who spoke only Polish, threw a computer and a chair.
He was emigrating to Canada, where his mother lived, and after arriving, became mysteriously lost in the airport for about 10 hours. He grew distraught, after finally emerging to find his mother gone, after an official told her he was not there.

Dalai Lama criticises anti-whaling protesters

(AFP) Dalai Lama yesterday criticised wildlife activists for staging what he said were violent protests over Japan’s hunting of whales.
The rebuke came as the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader visited Japan for an 11-day lecture tour.
At a news conference, he said he had told the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to stop its violent harassment of Japan’s whaling fleet.
“One time I wrote a letter...(saying) their activities should be stopping,” he told reporters.
Dalai Lama said he supported Sea Shepherd’s goal of preventing whalers from harming the giant sea mammals but added that “their (activities) should be non-violent”.
Japan’s annual whale hunt -- carried out under a loophole to an international moratorium that allows killing for what it calls scientific research -- has long been criticised by conservationists.

Colombia shuts borders for today’s vote

(AFP) - Colombia will close all its border crossings with Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, when the country votes in today’s presidential runoff, the interior and justice ministries said Friday.
The borders will remain closed between 4:00 am and 4:00 pm (0900-2100 GMT), the ministries said in a statement.
The closings are aimed at enhancing national security during the voting, they said.
Another election-related security measure went into effect Friday (18), with the banning of sales of all alcoholic beverages until after the election.
Nearly 30 million voters head to the polls today to choose a successor to President Alvaro Uribe. The runoff pits frontrunner ex-defence minister Juan Manuel Santos and former two-time Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus.

Brazilian govt. mourns Nobel-winning Portuguese writer

(Xinhua) -- Brazilian Culture Minister Juca Ferreira on Friday (18) lamented the death of Jose Saramago, the first Portuguese winner of the Nobel Literature Prize.
Saramago died of multiple-organ failure Friday (18) morning at the age of 87 in his private residence in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands after a long illness.
Saramago maintained privileged relations with Brazil. He participated in several literary events in the country, where he became very popular before winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, Ferreira said in an official statement released Friday.
In his novel “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis”, the main character lives in exile for 15 years in the South American country.